The tart cherry industry is in year four of an advertising and promotion campaign developed by the Chicago advertising agency Weber Shandwick and its team led by Jeff Manning, who is credited with creation of the Got Milk? campaign for the dairy ­industry.

Weber Shandwick vice president Michael Wheman came to the Cherry Marketing Institute’s annual meeting to talk about the promotion effort with growers in the Traverse City, Michigan, area, where half the national tart cherry production occurs in about five counties.

The basic thrust of the campaign is the health benefits of tart cherries. In the first year, the plan was to associate the word “Cherries” with antioxidants. The next year, the key words were “Choose Cherries” and the health message was broadened to tout the heart health benefits of anthocyanins.

In year three, the word was “Superfruit.” Last year, slogans were “the Power of Red” and “Powered by Red,” with the focus on pain relief and fast recovery after strenuous exercise. Last year, the industry was involved in sponsoring marathons in 13 cities, and will sponsor six this year, talking about the Red Recovery Routine. The idea is to sponsor athletes and health experts as paid spokespeople for the industry, and then to work with media—especially social media—to spread enthusiasm through Twitter tweets and retweets, blogs, YouTube videos, and Facebook.  This year, the “power team” includes decathlon athlete Bryan Clay, sports dietitian Leslie Bonci, and marathon runner Sarah Stanley.

The tart cherry industry has been slugging it out with blueberries, grapes, and cranberries in the Superfruit competition. But with a smaller amount of money to develop and place advertising, it’s cultivating the free stuff. “Social media is the new mass media,” Wheman said. “We jumped on it early, and Facebook is now our hub.”

The Cherry Marketing Institute, which coordinates the marketing effort, is sponsoring a number of university studies to document the health benefits of tart cherries. But, rather than trying to convince the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and put claims on food labels, the industry is looking to grass-roots testimonials spread among friends on social media and to ­information posted on its Web site www.choose ­

The National Cherry Festival Committee, which sponsors a week-long event in Traverse City starting the July Fourth weekend, works  to draw 500,000 people to the festival and, using online press kits, to convince the media to write and broadcast about it, and the social media to talk it up.