Barilla cooks up a tasty social media campaign

Tony Maraschiello    October 23, 2017

It’s a warm and bright Sunday afternoon. You’re carelessly strolling through the narrow cobblestone streets of a small village tucked into the Tuscan countryside.

As you pass by the rows of homes, an inviting aroma of freshly cooked pasta, rich tomato sauce and hearty Parmesan cheese floats through the air.

You peer into an open kitchen window and notice a man adding a sprig of basil on a heaping platter of pasta he’s about to serve his family. He notices you, he smiles  … and he waves you in!

You go in, sit down and enjoy the best plate of pasta of your life.

That’s exactly the experience global pasta maker Barilla is hoping to emulate here in Canada – whether you’re creating  your own Tuscan food fantasy at home or just trying to feed a hungry family on a Sunday afternoon – through a new social media campaign designed to engage customers in a memorable and lasting way.

Canada’s complex pasta landscape

Barilla, an Italian family-owned food company first established in 1877, is the world’s largest pasta maker.

But in a world in which local grocery stores are stocked with rows upon rows of pastas in every shape, size, colour, and ingredient you can imagine, how does a company, even one the size of Barilla, break through the clutter and keep you and your family coming back as loyal customers?

It’s a question Barilla Canada tackled recently when it wanted to go beyond just selling pasta to motivating customers to be their brand ambassadors. The main ingredient in its efforts – social media.

The Barilla pasta brand first came to Canada in 2009. But with a robust Italian-Canadian community, Barilla quickly found the Canadian pasta landscape dotted with authentic mom-and-pop fresh pasta shops, quality local pasta manufacturing companies, and an army of Italian grandmothers with home-made pasta recipes that have stood the test of time.

So the Barilla team decided to put their pastas to the test with Canadians and essentially went door-to-door dishing out samples and establishing a presence at some of Canada’s top food and cultural festivals. The brand quickly found it had potential in the market – it turned out that  87% of the people who tried their pastas would seriously consider purchasing it at their local grocery store.

Fast forward to today and Barilla Canada is focused on engaging its growing fan base through the use of social media – specifically Facebook and Twitter. In fact, it has been leveraging Facebook Live as a form of brand building using Toronto-born chef, TV host and Barilla Brand Ambassador David Rocco as the host of its new live digital broadcasts. On Oct. 25, Rocco kicked off the first of three Facebook Live sessions to celebrate World Pasta Day.

We asked Rocco for his thoughts on the pasta maker’s social media strategy:

Why did you get involved in Barilla Canada’s latest Facebook Live initiative?

As a brand ambassador for Barilla, and as someone interested in utilizing social media more effectively, I thought trying out the Facebook Live format would be a great way to connect with pasta fans across the country. Turns out it’s a great way to engage the audience, allowing them to ask questions and interact with me while I’m cooking, which really makes it feel like we’re just casually hanging out in the kitchen … me and a few thousand strangers!

Do you think social media is a good way to connect and build loyalty with customers?

Absolutely. Social media is really the only way to go these days. It’s constant self-marketing and a valuable tool for promotion. I truly believe that being able to connect face-to-face with consumers is the best way to create lasting connections, and the second best thing to face-to-face meetings is social media interactions.

“We’ve seen that [David] has a great way with audiences during live demos, and we saw that as an opportunity to extend that reach through Facebook Live,” Adriana Fazzina, Marketing Manager for Barilla Canada, told Media in Canada recently.

Rocco (who is the creator and star of several television shows, including David Rocco’s Dolce Vita on Food Network Canada) also took part in three previous Facebook Live videos for the brand. The most recent one that aired this past summer received more than 13,000 views and 2,000 shares, comments and reactions, according to Fazzina.

It’s Facebook Live’s ability to keep viewers engaged that could be the difference maker for Barilla. In fact, stats show Facebook Live videos are watched three times longer than online videos that are not live.

And while Barilla’s appeal and reach extends across a broad swath of demographics, the Facebook Live strategy also helps Barilla focus more on the angle of easy-to-prepare meals, which targets busy moms. In fact, more than three-quarters of the viewers of the live cooking sessions with Rocco are women.

That strategy is in line with recent studies that suggest while more and more men are doing the grocery shopping, women continue to have a bigger influence on what is purchased, where and how often.

Lessons for Others

Barilla is the world’s largest pasta maker and has been in business for more than 100 years. But that alone won’t sell more product in Canada’s discerning and crowded pasta market.

Instead, Barilla Canada opted for a fresh social media strategy that combined Facebook Live with a local celebrity chef and busy moms. In altering its traditional approach to engaging customers, Barilla discovered a winning recipe to developing customer engagement … one plate of pasta at a time.

And what would Rocco serve to his family on a Sunday afternoon?

My family recipe for pasta Puttanesca is so delicious and so easy to make. Back in Italy, my mother’s family had a walnut tree, so they put them in their Puttanesca, which traditionally uses anything you have kicking around the pantry. The staples are olives, capers, anchovies, and crushed tomato, and my family adds walnuts for a nice crunch.

Organization: Barilla Canada
Industry: Food
Name of Organization Contact: David Rocco, Barilla Brand Ambassador

Authored by: Tony Maraschiello

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