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Learning from lentils

Our global marketing campaign for the International Year of Pulses 2016 was recently selected as International Campaig

n of the Year by the judges of the CorpComms Awards.  The #LovePulses campaign, relying primarily on social media, succeeded in promoting the benefits of eating pulses to millions of consumers around the world, plus legislators, corporations, third-sector organisations, consumers, chefs, nutritionists and health experts.  There are obvious parallels with the Peas Please campaign, not least the challenge of promoting a relatively unglamorous food category, with a limited budget, in a highly competitive category in which tens of thousands of food products, brands and celebrities are competing for consumer attention.

Martin Thomas
Co-CEO, Dissident

The Peas Please campaign may be successful in securing funding from government, the food industry, the major supermarkets (or maybe a combination of all three) for a major consumer awareness campaign, but it also needs to plan for more constrained financial circumstances.  In which case, there is likely to be a heavy reliance of social media.  Fortunately, our experience with the #LovePulses campaign suggests that this does not necessarily mean that a social media-powered veg campaign cannot be successful in engaging and mobilising consumers and other stakeholders.

We have identified five learnings for the veg campaign from our pulses experience:

  1. The importance of planning – if you cannot afford mass marketing, you need to deploy smart marketing, which means identifying those audience groups most likely to be responsive to the campaign messages. In the case of the pulses campaign, these ranged from sustainability and environmental activists, to ‘culinary explorers’ and ‘health enthusiasts’.  Each group exhibited different attitudes, interests, needs and online behavior that had to be accommodated within the channel and content strategy.  This audience analysis was also invaluable in setting investment priorities, allowing us to focus precious advertising funds on the most potentially receptive groups.
  2. The value in mobilising existing networks of supporters and advocates – every category has its supporters or advocates: the trick with the #LovePulses campaign was to find and mobilise these existing communities of interest, from lentil lovers to falafel fans. This approach helped us secure the active support of 30 leading chefs, plus nutritionists, academics and other experts, as well as millions of engaged consumers.  We took the decision not to pay anyone to endorse the #LovePulses campaign – at a time when even the most obscure food bloggers are seeking some form of payment or sponsorship for endorsing a food message – we wanted people to support the campaign for the right reasons.
  3. The importance of Identifying and working with partners with shared interests – we found areas of mutual interest with campaigning groups, third-sector organisations and businesses. This is something that the Food Foundation has managed to achieve already with the veg campaign.  And when it came to social media we embraced the spirit of reciprocity, supporting each other’s events, campaigns and hashtags.
  4. The opportunity to leverage topical events and trending hashtags – we found ways to weave pulses messages into global sustainability and food initiatives, such as World Food Day, and even events such as the Olympics and World Cup: did you know that scientists have discovered that footballers eating a diet of pulses have more energy on the pitch? We also created our own events, such as the global #PulseFeast, to provide a rallying point for our supporters.  By using a social media Thunderclap to aggregate supporters’ tweet and posts, we succeeded in making the #PulseFeast hashtag trend globally on Twitter.
  5. The need to create a continuous stream of shareable content, stimulating conversations and engaging debates – social media campaign management is virtually a 24/7 operation. This is the big difference from the old-style campaigning model built around an advertising campaign and periodic bursts of activity: the modern, social media-based style of campaigning requires a long-term investment.

By the end of 2016, the #LovePulses social media campaign had received 990m impressions, encouraged over five million people to view, like, share and discuss pulse-related content, generated over three million website visits and resulted in a 47% increase in Google search traffic.  Even more significantly, the Global Pulse Confederation is forecasting record levels of pulse production and consumption around the world.  If social media can work for chickpeas it can certainly work carrots and cabbages.
For a roundup of the campaign, check-out this video