Kitchen Stages Digital Delicacies13 years ago
PR can take a lead in using new media to engage consumers online. Ulrich Gartner explains how household appliance company Electrolux used the insight that consumers like to perform in their kitchens to create quirky online reality shows.
Discussions among the PR community are buzzing with references to ‘viral communication’, ‘social media’, ‘user-generated content’, ‘word-of-mouth’, and the likes. Yet little is known to date what techniques make online PR really ‘tick’. Electrolux, one of the world’s leading household appliances producers, initiated new ways of engaging consumers online and found some interesting learnings.
The Electrolux Group’s long-term strategy is to position itself as the ‘Thoughtful Design Innovator’. Its tagline ‘Thinking of You’ reflects the Electrolux brand’s focus on innovation and product development based on genuine consumer insights, which often are gained through actually observing consumers in their homes while they carry out their daily household chores.
Smile, You’re on Camera
One of the key drivers for innovation is a new trend where consumers more and more are turning their kitchens into ‘stages’ where they ‘perform’ while entertaining guests. This trend is substantiated in the ‘Electrolux Kitchen Theatre Report’, showing that two-thirds of Europeans and Russians entertain guests at home once a month or more, and about one third of hosts compare the preparation of a meal to putting on a performance for guests.
In an attempt to establish ‘consumer understanding’ as a key differentiator from competition, and to underline the changing role of the kitchen, Electrolux developed what the Financial Times referred to as ‘one of the quirkiest reality shows on the web’: Electrolux Kitchenstage – The First Online Reality Show in a Kitchen.
The program’s core objectives are to engage with target consumers in an innovative and entertaining way, and to create general buzz and media coverage. The format of an online reality show was chosen as the most creative and appealing way to encourage consumers to actively engage with the brand. It also supports the underlying key trend: the evolution of the kitchen into a ‘stage’ where consumers can perform and successfully entertain guests and family.
Since this type of project was new territory for Electrolux, the company chose two pilot markets in order to obtain learnings at a contained investment.
The project started in mid 2006 with the search and selection of the family to be put on stage in Italy, using an on-line questionnaire, and later on individual interviews, in cooperation with the University of Padua. A similar process was run in Finland.
High-Tech Kitchen Makeover
Once the final choice had been made, the families’ kitchens were refurbished and equipped with the latest Electrolux built-in appliances, and technical equipment was installed including webcams and a broad-band connection.
On March 1, 2007, two webcams in the kitchen of family Manconi on the Island of Sardinia, Italy, went live for a period of three months; the second family in Tampere, Finland joined the show during May and June. They acted completely independently, without any scripting, games or competitions that are typical of more traditional ‘reality shows’.
PR-activities were carried out both online and offline to create buzz around the show; Electrolux hosted their own blog on the social website dada.it; ‘best-of-the-week’ videos were posted on YouTube, Flickr, and other web communities.
The results were striking: More than 100,000 individuals paid over 140,000 visits to the websites; over 300,000 people watched the videos; the Kitchenstage blog ranked, for several weeks, in the top ten of more than 20,000 blogs on dada.it. Just as important was the fact that the online show drove significant traffic to the company’s product websites; over five percent of visitors went on to learn more about the products displayed in the kitchen.
National media coverage included two broadcasts on national TV news Italia 1 – Studio Aperto, and local Sardinian TV, several radio reports, and print coverage in national and local media including Il Corriere della Sera, Il Mondo, and Casa Amica. The project was largely covered online and in blogs. International media coverage included, among others, The Financial Times (UK), and Dagens Industri and Dagens Nyheter in Sweden.
Valuable Consumer Insight
Last but not least, the months-long observation of two families brought about a flurry of consumer insights, that the company will make use of in their product innovation process.
The general perception of this pilot can be summarized in the words of an editorial in the Swedish national newspaper Dagens Nyheter: “Kitchenstage is concrete proof that Electrolux has changed from an engineering company to a consumer-oriented company with focus on strong brands.”
Some of the learnings from this pilot project include:
1. Both traditional PR and online activities like social media releases contributed to the success, the smart combination of the two seems to mutually enhance their effectiveness.
2. Web users enjoy interacting with real people; the attraction seems to lie in sharing ‘real life’ rather than extraordinarily thrilling events.
3. PR activities using online media help create offline coverage – and offline coverage drives traffic to the online outlet.
4. Online activities reach a global audience, even if launched in a local market and in local language only; around 25 per cent of visitors to the kitchenstage website came from the U.S.
Overall, Kitchenstage has proven that PR can take a leading role in web-based projects that create direct consumer engagement, sales support through product interaction, input to product innovation, and media coverage at the same time. This might be good news in the battle for leadership among different communications disciplines in the face of web 2.0 and the like.
The Kitchenstage campaign won the best e-PR project award in the IPRA Golden World Awards 2007.
Ulrich Gartner founded Gartner Communications, a strategic communications consultancy based in Frankfurt, Germany, in 2010. A veteran in international corporate communications, he previously held positions including VP Communications, Europe, at appliance maker Electrolux, and CEO, Germany, at network agency MSL Group.mail the author
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