NEW YORK: Major advertisers such as The Campbell Soup Company and Unilever are utilising the internet in innovative ways as they seek to reach specific audiences.

Campbell's, which has a presence in 30,000 retail outlets across the US, first formed a tie-up with Netgrocer, an online retail specialist, a decade ago, allowing it to sell its products directly via the web.

This portal has continued to evolve over this period, and now offers 85 condensed soups, and 200 soups in all, including a range of more niche lines that are often popular with its most devoted customers.

The company takes 8,000 phone calls a year from people unable to track down specific brands, but only points them to Netgrocer if it cannot locate a local a retailer where the item in question is available.

"The online model gives us a chance to direct phone calls to Netgrocer, which carries a fair number of hard-to-find products. If they don't have an item, we'll find out who has it," said John Johnson, Campbell's senior manager of interactive marketing.

While this medium delivers less than 1% of its total soup sales at present, it fulfils broader purposes, such as building brand loyalty over the long term.

"The idea of us looking at this as a volume source or big money-maker hasn't been in the equation," said John Faulkner, director of brand communications.

"It's a service. It's about keeping the consumer happy. These shoppers really want to find the products and are at an extremely engaged level."

While firms like Procter & Gamble have stated the aim of increasing their web sales, most are clear they are not trying to encroach on the territory occupied by grocery chains, a view echoed by Faulkner.

"We're not looking to become a full-service retail store. Netgrocer is a complement to traditional grocery channels," he said.

Unilever first unveiled Dove Men+Care in the US in December 2009, tapping in to a sector that is expected to reach a value of $33bn (€24.8bn; £21.7bn) globally by 2015, according to Global Industry Analysts.

Kathy O'Brien, vice president and general manager of Unilever's US skincare arm, said that research by the FMCG giant had revealed that 51% of male consumers were already using women's skincare products.

"We know that while men's overall interest in personal care is not as strong as women, men are becoming more sophisticated in grooming desires, but still want a simple routine," she argued.

The company formally launched Dove Men+Care through a spot run during the Super Bowl, but has also employed a range of digital channels ranging from mobile to social media as part of a nuanced strategy.

"We will have a significant presence in platforms where we can engage and interact with our target male consumers and the women in their lives who are, many times, the primary shopper in the household," said O'Brien.

More specifically, social networks will play a vital, and ongoing, role in achieving this objective, having yielded impressive results thus far.

"We are also leveraging our existing Facebook and Twitter platforms throughout the campaign to communicate with our consumers, extend our messaging and drive awareness of our product benefits," said O'Brien.

"The social media response to Dove Men+Care overall has been very positive … Men's Twitter discussions have centred around their reactions to the Super Bowl commercial or the products themselves."

Data sourced from eMarketer; additional content by Warc staff