Cascadian Farm Launches Campaign with the Help of Loyalty Lab

Operating a successful farm is a notion that is thriving in the virtual world. Some 20 million people check into FarmVille daily to plow pretend fields or buy, plant and harvest crops on online farms.

Now Zynga Game Network, the social network game’s creator, is linking FarmVille’s vast pool of players to retailers as diverse as 7-Eleven stores and the organic food company Cascadian Farm.

Users — who play for fun, camaraderie and friendly competition — reach FarmVille through a Facebook account. They can play free, but they can also spend real money to buy virtual goods, like a faster-growing crop or gifts to entice online friends to become neighbors, who are needed to expand their farms.

Next week, FarmVille will, for the first time, offer its pretend farmers a specific food brand. Players will be able to plant an organic blueberry crop from Cascadian Farm, a subsidiary of General Mills. The objective is for FarmVille users to learn about organic farming and green living, and at the same time, earn additional points to grow fruits and vegetables or raise animals on their virtual farms. Cascadian Farm executives say they hope that the company can expand its food niche and make itself better known by increasing awareness among FarmVille’s audience.

“We’re at a crossroads for the brand,” said Tim Goldsmid, marketing manager for Cascadian Farm, which started selling organic crops grown in the Upper Skagit Valley in Washington State nearly 40 years ago. “We’re looking to get our message out in a bigger way, and we wanted a creative way to do that.”

This is FarmVille’s “first branded, in-game crop integration, and we chose Cascadian Farm to offer our users something that would benefit them online and offline,” said Vish Makhijani, senior vice president for business operations at Zynga, the company that also created Mafia Wars and FrontierVille, two other popular Facebook games.

Cascadian Farm, which sells 75 products including cereal, granola bars, vegetables and juice concentrates, is the second General Mills brand to form a partnership with Zynga. In May, its Green Giant Fresh subsidiary placed a coded sticker on broccoli, celery and other fresh products sold at 4,000 Target stores across the country. Each sticker was redeemable at for five free “farm cash” units, the currency players use to maintain and expand their FarmVille projects.

In five weeks, $100,000 worth of the units were redeemed online by customers, who cashed in an average of two coupons each, said Mishalin Modena, marketing manager of Green Giant Fresh in Salinas, Calif.

The company is planning to expand the promotion in Wal-Mart and other stores, Ms. Modena said. The campaign was done with Loyalty Lab, a firm based in San Francisco that works with companies to increase customer loyalty.

Cascadian Farm, whose products are grown on 15,000 acres, is taking a different approach to FarmVille’s users, about 60 percent of whom are women. Most players are 20 to 40 years old, and play the game for 10 to 15 minutes at a time, said Manny Anekal, Zynga’s director of brand advertising.

The food company is embedding its brand in the game by offering all players, including beginners, a crop that can be harvested faster and bring a bigger cash return than other crops. The promotion will run from Monday to July 26.

“We don’t want to overextend our stay,” Mr. Goldsmid said.

The promotion’s short duration fits FarmVille, said Mr. Makhijani, because, “It is a little like episodic television. We add new content every other day, whether it’s new features, new crops, new buildings or different ways of doing things. Many users play two to four times a week, and some more often. About 60 million people play in a month.”

Making money from that popularity, he said, is the challenge for Zynga, which says it has 215 million yearly users.

“This is early days for us in advertising,” said Mr. Makhijani, who said Zynga also had a partnership with 7-Eleven in June to allow Facebook game players shopping at 7,000 stores to redeem codes found on Slurpees, Big Gulp drinks and other products for virtual goods. The six-week arrangement allowed coupons to be redeemed for virtual items on FarmVille and two other Zynga game sites.

Cascadian Farms has Facebook and Twitter pages, and posts YouTube videos, said Mr. Goldsmid, adding, “FarmVille has a scale that we lack.” Before this campaign, the company relied mainly on print ads placed in lifestyle magazines like Real Simple and on free samples at community events like 5K races, he said.

“We are moving beyond that and trying to tap into social media,” he said.

Despite the premium prices for organic food, sales grew more than 5 percent last year, to $26.6 billion, according to the Organic Trade Association, the business group for organic producers and suppliers. Cascadian Farm’s sales rose 14 percent over the last four years, it said, but it declined to give specific sales figures.

Cascadian Farm plans to decide its marketing direction after tabulating the FarmVille results, which will be measured not only by Web activity but also by call-ins to the company’s 800 number and hits on its blog (, Mr. Goldsmid said.

Also available on the FarmVille site will be a $1 coupon for Cascadian Farm products, which can be redeemed in a brick-and-mortar store, said Melissa Eccles, digital creative director for the project at Sterling-Rice Group in Boulder, Colo. Sterling-Rice created Cascadian Farm’s social games promotion.

Allying with FarmVille will familiarize more people with organic foods and why they are different, Mr. Goldsmid said. “This is a great venue to have a discussion,” he said. “We hope that most FarmVille users will plant our crop. We are going for all 20 million.”