Meerkats Stink in South Africa, But Smell Like Roses in the UK

In our class research on social media in South Africa, we learned how viral marketing using social media can go very wrong. Case in point: Mo the meerkat, Vodafone’s short-lived mascot. Capitalizing on the interest in the cute, furry animals popularized by the television series “Meerkat Manor,” the mobile phone company took the live animal and created a cartoon version that walked a very warped path with commercials of Mo stripping and ogling a female meerkat.

Rather than elicit a positive buzz online, many people wrote about their hatred for Mo. Rightly so, I had to agree. There is something wrong with taking a beloved animal, targeting him to children, and having him cross the line. This is a key point for companies considering social media: Do Your Research and Know Your Market.

Success can be had, even with meerkats. Across the pond, jolly ol’ England found meerkats to be social media gold. The company Comparethemarket.com, which offers care insurance and encourages its visitors to compare its rates to other insurers, launched a social media campaign called comparethemeerkat.com, fronted by an imaginary Russian meerkat named Aleksandr Orlov.

meerkat.com

The mock website actually lets you compare meerkats. I picked a scuba diving Berliner mixed with a miming meerkat in Cairo.

Picture 1

All in good fun, comparethemeerkat.com continues to make references to the real comparethemarket.com company with a similar logo, similar color scheme, and even referencing the other site that offers cheap insurance. These not-so-subtle references ensure that you never lose sight of the actual company behind the campaign.

If you can’t get enough on the site, you can follow Aleksandr elsewhere in cyberspace. He has a Twitter account with 21,992 followers and growing. And he has more than 500,000 fans on Facebook.

But none of these friends would mean anything if the real company behind the campaign wasn’t seeing a benefit. According to Michael Litman, the comparethemarket.com saw success quickly.

In the first 3 days of the campaign over three quarters of the monthly quotes target had been achieved. The year on year uplift in quotes was 45% and vitally, over 50% of the site traffic in the first week was going directly to comparethemarket.com. Finally, the number of quotes is up by 90% on the same period last year.

Comparethemarket.com’s success proves that:

  1. They did their research and knew their audience.
  2. They never lost site of their own business, despite the online phenomenon of comparethemeerkat.com and Aleksandr.
  3. Their social media platforms worked well together, giving the fans seamless integration.
  4. They had fun, but never crossed the line.

Note to other companies: Remember that meerkats can bring success, but not when you name him Mo.

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