Cheese and hashtags were on the menu at a Chicago restaurant last month. The Laughing Cow cheese brand held a three-hour event for those in the food media. While I didn’t find any of my print colleagues there, I did see plenty of bloggers and photographers who inhabit the digital world. Even Frederic Nalis, the chief executive officer of Bel Brands USA, the owner of the processed cheese brand, showed up, giving interviews and posing for pictures. His office is not far from River Roast, a restaurant overlooking the Chicago River and the site of the event called “Reinvent Snacking.”

The idea was perfect for the digital age. Connect influential food bloggers with cheese, a chef and experts in food styling. Then step back and watch the hashtags fly.

The Laughing Cow had two experts on hand who offered tips on taking great photographs and making share-worthy stop-motion videos. Guests were encouraged to style their own cheese photos, choosing props like plates, napkins, flowers, fruits and vegetables, and wine glasses. Then they shared their photos on social media, using the hashtag #ReinventSnacking and the Twitter handle of the host (@TheLaughingCow). Elsewhere in the room, Chef Tanya Baker of The Boarding House served up tips for pairing flavors among different foods.

Guests followed the proceedings on a large screen video monitor, which scrolled the tagged tweets and photos.

Brand awareness

The Laughing Cow’s Katie Driscoll told me the intention was to drive brand awareness of the cheese and its suitability as a snack. It worked. After Chicago and a similar event in Seattle, The Laughing Cow brand received 6 million earned impressions from 700 social media postings, said Driscoll, who is the senior associate brand manager at Bel Brands USA. That exceeded the company’s expectations, she said. A third and final event was scheduled for New York City after we went to press.

Driscoll said she and her team were seeking “authentic engagement” from the bloggers, who were invited because they were considered “influencers” and “tastemakers.” The cheese company could have simply laid out all its single-serve foil-wrapped products on a buffet table and invited the media to taste them. But by having a chef and food stylists on hand, the bloggers were picking up new ideas and sharing them with their followers. They were creating unique content for their blogs, and sharing their ideas about what snacking means.

Snacking is a way of life in the United States (see related). The Laughing Cow found a unique way to tap into this trend. It was also astute enough to stay in the background and let others talk about its cheese. As a result, the company benefited from arm’s-length endorsements by influential writers communicating with their loyal followers.

 This is an idea any dairy processor could replicate. Let me know how you are connecting your brand with consumers.