Crisis control: PPC can save the day and your brand

When a nationwide pet food recall was hastily put into place after contaminated products were found to be poisoning pets, it became clear that pay-per-click advertising can be used for more than just customer acquisition.

As ordinary people can spread both positive and negative information about brands faster than marketers can, a few savvy companies realized that PPC could be used to head off negative news and piggyback on positive news, as well as to support branding campaigns.

Pedigree was one such company. When the recall hit, it bought the keywords “dog food recall.” That way when a user searched on Google, Pedigree came up as one of the top results. The ad said, “100 percent safe. Not part of recall.” Pedigree did not return calls for this article.

Robert Murray, president of iProspect, worked with one company û whom he would not identify û during a recall that similarly affected his client’s market.

“Paid search can be a highly effective tool for reputation management and crisis control because of its speed, flexibility and control,” says Murray.

The principal benefit, he continues, is how quickly the efforts can begin.

“In less than 24 hours, we launched recall-related campaigns directing consumers to our client’s press release about the crisis,” he says. “Our campaigns were in place three weeks before the competition took action. Second, as the recall situation continued to evolve, the flexibility of the medium allowed us to continually make adjustments to ad creative and keyword sets to reflect the most up-to-date information. Lastly, paid search provided information control during the crisis.”

The paid-search campaign iProspect worked on for this unnamed client produced more than 500,000 impressions. It also protected the client’s brand, and provided it with a compassionate voice during the course of the recall, as well as insight into the buzz surrounding the recall.

Matt Naeger, vice president and general council for IMPAQT, offers further advice for using search during any kind of crisis.

“Forecast what types of negative stuff can be said about you,” he advises. “Predict words people will search for.”

By way of example, Naeger says, a major cosmetics company predicted that an activist group would likely be negative about its products, and so bought a word associated to a drug the activist group believed was being used to make products. The drug was not being used. Through the search campaign, the cosmetics company was able to get its facts out there quickly and effectively.

PPC can also be used to leverage popular news stories. One company’s (or person’s) crisis can be another one’s opportunity. For example, when ABC News’ Barbara Walters interviewed Paris Hilton when she got out of jail, the news site bought keywords including “Paris,” “Hilton” and “jail.” So anyone searching for information on Paris Hilton was automatically pointed to

As well as its application in crisis communications, PPC is important to use as part of a branding campaign, says Chrysi Philalithes, vice president of global marketing and communications for Miva, New York.

“Brand terms now account for around a third of top searches across Google, Yahoo and Miva,” Philalithes says. “In fact, brand terms are more likely to be clicked on than non-brand terms.”

The right combination of seasonality, company announcements and the right volume of brand-related searches provides significant opportunities. For example, the month Sony PlayStation3 launched, search volumes for the terms “Sony PS3” increased by 357 percent, compared to the monthly average across the rest of the year, according to data from Trellian, an Internet company.

Another reason PPC is important to use as part of a branding campaign is that today’s consumer is complex, and PPC branding can help reinforce messaging among an increasingly fragmented audience.

Sixty percent of 18- to 34-year-olds surf the Web while watching television, and 72 percent cannot remember URLs on TV, further cementing the importance of search and branding.

PPC branding can reinforce integrated campaigns. Trellian found that of all the clicks onto the McDonald’s Web site, for a period of one month more than 3,100 come from users typing in æI’m lovin’ it’ into the search query box.

A perfect example of utilizing search to support PR efforts can be found in Nike’s use of the medium to promote its offline ad campaign and celebrity endorsement featuring Maria Sharapova.

Nike worked with Range Online Media, and from ensuring that search drove traffic to the TV commercial on its Web site (as opposed to just YouTube) to taking advantage of the search traffic associated with Sharapova, the partnership led to a truly integrated campaign.

Ashwini Karandikar, vice president of client services for Range Online Media, says, “In addition to giving you a sense of the overall health of your marketing programs and driving online revenue, search can absolutely drive your PR efforts forward and complement your offline events and branding initiatives.”

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