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President of Wrigley North America talks social media strategies for Skittles

by Alexis Pope 12 JOURN | Photos by Ray Victor
11/16/2010  4:00 pm

Technology provides a new, instant platform for human connection, and businesses have tapped into this connection to reach consumers, according to Mary Kay Haben ’77 BUS, president of Wrigley North America.

The talk was hosted by the Charles H. Sandage Department of Advertising as part of their Professional-in-Residence speaker series.

“Social media matters because people trust corporations less,” said Haben. “Let others do the talking on your behalf. Let them know that you are a real person just like them and are passionate about what you do.”

The world’s largest manufacturer of chewing gum, Wrigley has its headquarters in downtown Chicago. With worldwide sales topping $6 billion a year, the standalone subsidiary of Mars, Inc., is the United States’ biggest manufacturer of confections, said Haben.

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Digital strategy is essential to Skittles, where only 50 percent of the budget is spent on traditional advertising, she explained.

Facebook is a major part of Skittles’ digital strategy, Haben said. Generally, the subsidiary interacts with its audience through daily entertainment posts, exclusive content such as viral videos, and fan action, also referred to as “mobbing the rainbow.”

“Through Facebook, Skittles’ ‘mob campaigns’ bring consumers deeper into the border zone by inviting them to create random fun with the brand,” said Haben, citing the “Valentine the Rainbow” campaign where more than 40,000 fans sent digital Valentines to an unsuspected parking ticket officer.

“Skittles is launching in 50 countries, including China, and capacity is our biggest constraint,” said Haben about reaching audiences around the world. “There are 4 million [Facebook] fans of Skittles in countries where Skittles are not distributed.”

While most of her presentation focused on the success of Skittles, she also talked about the students' futures.

Haben said social media have produced a growing profession. Big companies want to hire young people as social media officers who manage social network accounts. She alluded to BusinessWeek’s July 15, 2010, issue, which discussed how social media officers are quickly replacing the chief marketing officer in many companies.

Like many prominent alumni, Haben likes to spend time speaking with students.

“It is awesome to be able to share my passion with the audience,” she said. “When I was a student just starting out, I was sitting in the audience at a General Mills presentation. So now I’m trying to spark an interest with a new audience.”

The Department of Advertising appreciated having Haben as a guest for the speaker series.

“It continues to hook us up with corporations and firms in Chicago,” said Associate Department Head and Associate Professor Jason Chambers. “It all boils down to providing opportunities for our students.”

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