November 1, 2001, 12:00 AM

Getting the marketing message out—instantly

Snack-foods manufacturer The Keebler Co. is embedding marketing messages in ActiveBuddy’s instant-message answers to customers’ queries. Response rates are three times those for e-mail messages.

Even as e-mail marketing remains an important way to reach consumers, some companies are taking a more direct approach. Snack-foods manufacturer The Keebler Co. last month tested a promotion for its Cheez-It sweepstakes through instant messaging. Out of 120,000 impressions, the campaign generated a click-through rate of 6.5%, three times Keebler’s traditional e-mail response rate.

Keebler worked with ActiveBuddy Inc.’s interactive agent SmarterChild, an instant messaging service in which a user interacts with an information service for news, weather, stock quotes, sports and other information. Consumers can “talk” to the buddy agent any time once they add SmarterChild to their instant messaging list. The Cheez-It sweepstakes supports SmarterChild’s sponsorship of the NFL. When SmarterChild replies to an inquiry via IM, a link to the sweepstakes appears in the body of the response. Users who click to enter the sweepstakes provide name, date of birth and e-mail address.

Keebler says it believes the high response rates prove integrating brand with instant messaging is an ideal way to advertise and interact with consumers. Anna Murray, president of e*media inc., which brokered the deal with ActiveBuddy and Keebler, says the consumer-initiated interaction is one reason instant messaging advertising is effective. “Because the consumer has initiated a conversation it’s not as anonymous as an e-mail,” she says.

Since its June launch, SmarterChild has built an audience of more than 2 million. It says it relies only on word of mouth and viral marketing.

According to Jupiter Media Metrix, 97 million people online use instant messaging, which will grow to 151 million by 2003. “Response rates for e-mails have already dropped. Consumers may find IM promotion even more intrusive,” Jim Nail, senior analyst in Forrester Research Inc.’s CPG market focus group, says. Murray believes integrating IM promotion into the IM service, by using the same “voice” to mention the promotion, could provide continued success.

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