Nike Avoids Major Fireworks Over July 4th Retreat

Offline Conversations Rise, Stay Positive

kaepernick-air-max Nike and its spokesman Colin Kaepernick generated only modest social media fireworks over the July 4th holiday when Nike canceled plans to sell a commemorative sneaker featuring the 13-star “Betsy Ross flag.” The company was reacting to Kaepernick’s allegation that Nike’s use of the Revolutionary era flag celebrated a time when black Americans were enslaved. Kaepernick, of course, is the pro-football-player-turned-social-justice-activist who Nike began featuring in advertising last September, lauding him for risking his career in the National Football League to stand up against the abuse of African Americans by the criminal justice system.  The launch of the campaign in September prompted a massive, negative reaction in social media, although it ultimately led to rising sales and stock price because the extreme rise in brand engagement was more impactful than the negative sentiment of brand critics.


The negative reaction in social media over the July 4th holidays looks similar to what we measured in the TotalSocial platform last September. Negative comments about the brand during the first two weeks of July completely offset positive ones, leading to a “net sentiment” score near zero.  But there is a difference.  While the volume of engagement this time around is double the usual discussion about Nike online, last fall the increase was more than 20 times the usual level. Possibly the novelty of Nike’s Kaepernick campaign has worn off and consumers are taking his views more in stride.  

Nike’s Sentiment in Social Media Turns Negative Again

019-07 EL05 NIKE AVOID FIREWORKS OVER JULY 4TH RETREAT v1-01 019-07 EL05 NIKE AVOID FIREWORKS OVER JULY 4TH RETREAT v1-02 In “real life,” the offline conversation about Nike is following a different pathway, something we often see when comparing online and offline conversation trends. By the second week of July, the volume of conversation about Nike had risen to 108 million conversational “impressions” per week, reflecting the number of people exposed to a face-to-face or voice-to-voice conversation about the brand.  That’s up 12% compared to the last week of June and the third highest level in a year.  Also, the sentiment about the brand remained highly positive and in line with past year average. Nike’s decision to recall the July 4th shoe does not appear to have turned into a major public relations disaster. On the other hand, the muted reaction probably means there won’t be a lot of upside either, as the company enjoyed when it took the truly controversial step of making Kaepernick the face of Nike.

Upstart First Direct Makes Big Inroads in UK Financial Conversations

northern-ballet-fd Nationwide Building Society, the venerable British mutual bank, continues to have the strongest consumer conversations among financial institutions in the United Kingdom, based on our TotalSocial® platform that monitors both online and offline consumer conversations about brands.  But upstart First Direct, established in 1989, has moved into second place, replacing Barclays Bank, which traces its roots to the late Seventeenth Century. Every year Engagement Labs releases TotalSocial rankings of the top brands in the U.S., by category, based on consumer conversations that happen both online and offline. Now in partnership with Kantar Analytics in the United Kingdom, we are presenting the UK brands Top 10 Ranker, beginning with beauty and personal care and now moving on to financial brands. The ranking is based on TotalSocial data and analytics, which continuously measures the most important drivers of brand performance in both face-to-face and social media conversations. The brands in the Top 10 have earned the highest TotalSocial scores in the category for the last six months, compared to its previous ranking for the same period in 2018. As a category, financial brands perform well below average for brands overall, mainly due to low scores for “Net Sentiment,” which is based on the percent of positive conversations minus negative ones.  Yet it is Net Sentiment that helps the leaders stand out in their category.  Nationwide, which has an overall score of 55.9, earns a 71.2 for the Net Sentiment of offline conversations, higher than any of the other traditional financial companies.  First Direct, which earns a 54.4 TotalSocial score overall does even better, at 84.8, for offline Net Sentiment.  The TotalSocial system scores all brands on a scale of 0 to 100, with 50 being average across all categories for any metric. Top 10 TotalSocial Financial Services UK Brands Previous number-two brand Barclays has plummeted to number eight on the list with a score of 42.2. The decline is a result of Barclays advertising being less effective at generating conversations, and because fewer online influencers are talking about the brand, which dates back to 1690 when influence was limited to a ruling class.  The other major declining brand is Aviva, a modern sounding bank that dates back nearly as far as Barclays, in 1696; Aviva has dropped 5 positions on the ranker, from fourth to ninth. Modernity, however, is not a guarantee of relevance in contemporary conversations among consumers.  In addition to First Direct, the rising brands on the list include traditional brands NatWest and Halifax—in third and fifth place, respectively, as well as the modern banking brand Virgin Money, ranked seventh. Competitors would do well to study how the two leading brands have earned such positive conversations in a category that often invites disapproval.  Since its founding, First Direct has earned consumer love it by explicitly running against the category as an “unexpected bank” that has “no branches.” In recent months, much of the positive online conversation about First Direct has been generated by the bank’s sponsorship of the Northern Ballet’s Victoria and Dracula. Nationwide’s gains come from a more traditional source.  The bank enjoyed a net gain of more new customers in the first three months of 2019 largely due to offering high interest rates on bank deposits.   Engagement Labs has entered a partnership with Kantar Analytics that provides rights to sell the TotalSocial® platform in the UK. To learn more about Kantar and TotalSocial and how to increase your brand’s word of mouth in real life and online, request a complimentary briefing and demo.

Perdue Chicken Scalded in a Twitter Fight Between Nicki & Miley

Yet Offline Conversation Remains Immune to Online Drama

nicki-minaj-miley-cyrus We’ve been writing about the large differences between consumer conversations that happen online and offline, as measured by the Engagement Labs TotalSocial® platform. It’s hard to find an example more extreme than the Twitter “beef” involving the Perdue Chicken brand that erupted in late June between Nicki Minaj and Miley Cyrus. For the week ending July 7, Perdue still had an impressive offline sentiment score of 85.7 (out of a possible 100) versus an online score of 0, one of the biggest sentiment gaps we’ve seen between conversations online and offline. As part of a long-running feud between the two pop stars, Minaj name-called Cyrus a “Perdue Chicken,” the precise meaning of which remains unclear.  The result was a dramatic rise in online media mentions of the Perdue brand to nearly 15,000 per week versus the usual of fewer than 100. Unfortunately, the tone of those conversations was rather negative.  

Minaj’s Name-Check Prompted a Surge in Perdue’s Online Conversations

Minaj’s Name-Check Prompted a Surge in Perdue’s Online Conversations Trying to make the best of things, Perdue’s marketing team gamely interjected “thanks for the mention @NICKIMINAJ, but we don’t know nothing about beef.” Despite the clever reply, onlinenet sentiment for the brand sank for two consecutive weeks.  But importantly, offline net sentiment did not seriously veer off its steady upward march dating back to early January. In fact, Perdue’s online net sentiment has been volatile for an entire year—hitting stratospheric heights this spring and last summer, while hitting a sharp low in January, during a major recall of Perdue Chicken Nugget products.  

Perdue’s Sentiment More Volatile Online than Offline

Perdue’s Sentiment More Volatile Online than Offline That January product recall incident was the one time when both online and offline sentiment moved significantly in the same direction, while volume also rose. The lesson seems to be that when online brand conversations move sharply in a negative direction due to pop culture dust-ups or politics—as we have seen repeatedly during the Trump era—brands are rarely hurt in a durable way. But when social media outrages are related to a brand’s real-world performance—such as product recalls, customer service errors, or appearing to prioritize profits over people—then brands face more serious risks.  As we’ve shown in the MIT Sloan Management Review, online and offline conversations can have a major impact on brand sales, but online and offline are rarely correlated.  That’s why it’s so important for brands to mindful of all types of conversations—online and offline—in order to separate the signal from the noise of social media.   Find out More, Sign Up for a TotalSocial Briefing  

LUSH Ranked #1 Atop Kantar TotalSocial® Top 10 UK Beauty Brands

Lush_ukbrand Every year Engagement Labs releases TotalSocial® rankings of the top brands in the U.S., by category, based on consumer conversations that happen both online and offline. Now in partnership with Kantar Analytics in the United Kingdom, we are presenting the UK brands Top 10 ranker, beginning with beauty and personal care. The ranking, which is unique in that it combines offline and online consumer conversations, is based on Engagement Labs’ proprietary TotalSocial data and analytics, which continuously measures the most important drivers of brand performance in both face-to-face and social media conversations. The brands in the Top 10 have earned the highest TotalSocial scores in the category for the last six months, compared to its previous ranking for the same period in 2018. In the beauty category, LUSH is the highest performing brand, with a score of 67, despite a decision in mid-April to shut down its own social media pages in the UK, including Facebook, Instagram, YouTube and Twitter.  The decision came in the last two weeks of the period covered by this ranking, impacting just the online “Brand Sharing” score for the brand, which is based on owned social pages. LUSH will be challenged to maintain its high ranking in the future, despite extremely high scores for the sentiment of consumer-generated online and offline conversations, as well as the engagement of everyday influencers with the brand. Top 10 Kantar TotalSocial Beauty and Personal Care UK Brands The LUSH brand has generated conversations through sometimes dramatic choices that risk a negative backlash.  In 2018 the brand generated negative conversations by using marketing to criticize police for undercover investigation tactics, whereas this year it provoked more positive discussion of a decision to stop using eggs in its products. These choices may reflect a brand keenly focused on the ethical concerns of Generation Z consumers, as we reported last year.  Currently, the brand has exceptionally high “net sentiment” scores reflecting lots of positive talk both online and offline, and very few negative conversations (see below).  

LUSH Brand Scores Very High on Sentiment and Influence, Online and Offline

LUSH Brand Scores Very High on Sentiment and Influence, Online and Offline The second ranked brand, The Body Shop, is also very socially conscious. Dropping from first to second on the list, the British beauty retailer has redefined its brand purpose by emphasizing activism part of its brand strategy, as exemplified by pop ups celebrating female empowerment.The campaign that coincided with International Women’s Day featuring free makeovers, facials, massages and hair-braiding. The Nivea brand, also trying its hand at social marketing, made it to the third spot on the ranker. The brand launched a couple of notable campaigns. First, the debut of Mr. Sun mascot in partnership with Cancer Research UK encouraged the use of sunscreen when out and about at home. Second the “The Man Who Changes Mondays” featuring the Euston tube station announcer. The brand unveiled a new strapline, #ShareTheCare, to bring the concept of care beyond its skin products and into the real world. However, the brand also suffered a lot of negative conversations, mainly online, when a young woman criticized the brand for poor product labeling after she suffered a severe allergic reaction to nut oils in a Nivea lip balm.  

Nivea Brand Took a Hit in Online Sentiment Over Labeling and a Nut Allergy Incident

Nivea Brand Took a Hit in Online Sentiment Over Labeling and a Nut Allergy Incident The biggest falloff goes to Simple dropping 13 points and out of the top 10 from previous period, likely related to inactivity on its brand social pages. The brand is now ranked 20th in the United Kingdom for beauty and personal care, down from seventh. Meantime, two Unilever brands, Dove and Lynx, have jumped dramatically up the list, now ranked at 7th and 8th, respectively. Kantar Analytics has a licensing agreement for the exclusive rights to sell Engagement Labs’ TotalSocial® platform in the United Kingdom.  To learn more about Kantar TotalSocial and how to increase your brand’s word of mouth in real life and online, request a complimentary briefing and demo.

Consumer Conversations Stay Positive as Brands Embrace Pride Month

budlightpridemonth Lately, we’ve been reporting numerous instances of brands being drawn into political controversies and experiencing nasty blow-ups in social media, although online outrage has rarely translated to real-world anger. That’s what makes the social response to Pride Month this year somewhat surprising.  By mid-month, none of 16 prominent brands promoting Pride campaigns is experiencing a major backlash, either in social media, or in real-world conversations that happen across the dinner table, at the water cooler, or over a backyard fence.  The implication is that LGBT issues may not be as controversial as they once were, now 50 years after the Stonewall riot that sparked the modern gay-rights movement. The recent pattern has been that brands engaging in politically fraught issues such as gun control, black lives matter, and the #metoo movement experience big, negative hits in social media that rarely crossover to real-world conversations.  We saw this with Dick’s Sporting Goods, Citibank, and Delta on the gun issue and with Gillette when it took a stand against the “boys will be boys” culture.  Nike got beaten up both online and offline for promoting Colin Kaepernick’s “black lives matter” campaign, but ultimately gained from higher brand engagement within the Nike target market. Yet the 16 brands tracked in our TotalSocial® platform that are actively promoting LGBT support for Pride Month are faring well, both online and offline.  When we plotted the TotalSocial scores for those brands over the six months ending June 16, the result looks more like a Pride rainbow flag blowing in the wind, as opposed to a consistently up or down trend. The 16 brands tracked in our TotalSocial® platform that are actively promoting LGBT support for Pride Month are faring well, both online and offline. Drilling down into the detailed metrics reveals some interesting case studies.  Probably the most positive reaction any brand received during Pride month is Smirnoff, the vodka brand, which has organized a multi-faceted campaign involving “LGBTQIA influencers,” limited edition packaging, and plans for a central role in the biggest Pride parade, in New York City.  Smirnoff and its parent, Diageo, are touting their perfect 100 score for being an LGBT-friendly workplace.   Smirnoff’s offline and especially online sentiment shot upward in June with the launch of the brand’s “Welcome Home” campaign featuring Laverne Cox. Smirnoff’s offline and especially online sentiment shot upward in June with the launch of the brand’s “Welcome Home” campaign featuring Laverne Cox. Meantime, another beverage brand, Bud Light, has made a major commitment to Pride Month with a special edition aluminum “rainbow bottle.” While positive net sentiment hasn’t changed much, Bud Light has generated much higher volumes of weekly conversations about the brand, reaching 26 million per week the first week of June, versus 19 million before the announcement of the rainbow bottles. Indeed, Pride Month is producing the highest level of conversation about Bud Light since the recent Super Bowl. Pride Month is producing the highest level of conversation about Bud Light since the recent Super Bowl. A third brand, Gillette, may be happy with very little change, either online or offline, in response to a Pride Month commercial that features a father teaching his trans son to shave for the first time. Just a few month ago, the brand was on the receiving end of a social media backlash against a commercial that spoke to men about the importance of being respectful of women. The message to brands is that acceptance of gays, lesbians, and other gender non-conforming consumers does not carry the same level of risk that other politically and social sensitive issues carry.  That’s a big change in a short period of time. At age 50, the modern LGBT movement has accomplished a great deal in the spheres of politics, the law, and family life.  We can add to that list a significant measure of acceptance in the national conversation, both online and offline.

The Right Way to Buy Word-of-Mouth

The Right Way to Buy Word-of-Mouth - MRI/TotalSocial Fusion The notion of “buying” word-of mouth through online influencers has gotten a bad name lately, given concerns about the reliability of information circulating on social media, and the honesty and integrity of paid influencers. A better way is to put your brand’s message in front of everyday influencers, the people who are naturally curious about brands and products, and who are eager to share the things they learn with friends, family, and co-workers.  A new data fusion is making it possible to identify the media audiences and demographic segments that are most likely to spread the word about your brand, thus super-charging and amplifying your message through everyday consumer influencers. Marketers seeking to grow their sales need to tap on the power of offline consumer conversations. Analytics by Engagement Labs published this year in the MIT Sloan Management Review finds that billions of dollars in consumer spending each year are related to word-of-mouth conversations about brands. Indeed, 10% of consumer purchases are driven by word-of-mouth, slightly more than what conversation in social media motivate. Engagement Labs is partnering with MRI-Simmons, the leading provider of insights on the American consumer—to link consumer word-of-mouth and influence data from its TotalSocial platform to MRI’s definitive Survey of the American Consumer, a leading database for supporting brand marketers and media planners. With the new MRI/TotalSocial Fusion there is now a new, innovative way plan a data-driven campaign for social amplification via word-of-mouth. Consider the following retail example.  If you are a brand targeting young adults, aged 18-24, and choosing a retail partner, you would have a hard time knowing whether to spend money on shelf space and displays at Walmart, Target, or Amazon, based on shopping behavior alone.  It turns out, 18-to-24-year-olds are slightly less likely than the average adults to shop visit Walmart or Target, or to shop with Amazon, and none of the three has an advantage over the other. Retailer Behavior Among Consumers 18-24 But if you looked at conversation behavior available from the MRI/TotalSocial Fusion, you would see that Target stands out among young consumers in a big way.  Young adults are 57% more likely than average adults to talk about Target stores, a strong indicator of enthusiasm for Target as a place to shop—and to learn about, and talk about, brands and products.  They are the strongest of the three if you are   introducing youth-targeted products and brands. With MRI data fused to TotalSocial word-of-mouth data, there are powerful, unique media planning opportunities as well. In the automotive category, there can be a very big difference between the people buying cars, and the people talking about them and advising others on what to buy.  There may be a significant opportunity to affordably reach auto “talkers” in places other advertisers aren’t looking. In the table below we are showing the top eight of 83 cable networks based on automobile buying.  These are the cable channels with the highest percentage of people who leased or purchased a car in the past year.  They include a lot of sports channels like NHL Network, Golf Channel, MLB Network, ESPN Classic, and NBC Sports. They also include business and news channels like Fox Business and Fox News. Cable channels with the highest percentage of people who leased or purchased a car in the past year Next to each of those channels we are showing the “word-of-mouth rank” for the same 83 cable networks for which the MRI/TotalSocial Fusion provides an estimate of the number of automobile conversations per week.  You’ll notice that only one network—Nick at Nite—has a strong rank both for auto purchasing and auto advocacy (#7 for purchase, #5 for word-of-mouth).  Every other network that reaches a lot of buyers fall short in terms of the volume of automotive conversations. Which networks are best for reaching automotive conversations?  Generally, they are networks that reach younger, less affluent, but more influential types of people. In the table below, the top channel for reaching people who talk often about car brands is VH1 followed by Adult Swim, FreeForm, and Smithsonian.  All of these are channels that marketers would be well advised to look at again as targets for auto advertising, particularly if they have a goal of getting the word about something new and exciting. These audiences can add significantly to the reach of a commercial through conversation. Top channels for reaching people who talk often about car brands In the Engagement Labs analysis recently published in the MIT Sloan Management Review, we found that 25% of the impact of advertising on sales comes as a result of its ability to stimulate a conversation which in turn leads to a purchase.  That makes sense because those conversations often contain a level of persuasion that friends enjoy but advertising rarely matches.
The MRI/TotalSocial Fusion makes it possible for brand marketers to increase social amplification and persuasion through new and innovating ways of targeting the right consumers in the right places, and media channel selection.
Get more information about the MRI/TotalSocial Fusion at or request a briefing below.

A Year Later, Dick’s Looks Smart for Ignoring the False Signal of Social Media

dickssportinggoods-1 Dick’s Sporting Goods this week announced positive first quarter results, beating analyst estimates by 4 cents a share, and raising the company’s full year outlook.  CNBC reported the stock trading 18% higher than a year earlier. It is doubtful anybody anticipated Dick’s would be performing this well, 14 months after announcing it would stop selling assault rifles in response to the tragic February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, FL. Indeed, CEO Ed Stack told investors the move was “not going to be positive from a traffic standpoint and from a sales standpoint.” An important sign of trouble was the eruption of negative sentiment about Dick’s in social media as supporters of gun rights took to Twitter and Facebook to express anger at the retailer. But the opposite signal was measurable in the real-world conversations of Americans, the conversations about brands that happen face-to-face in lunchrooms and backyards, and across family dinner tables.  Those conversations about Dick’s remained positive, as we reported beforeand after Dick’s announced Q1 results last year. Today, the brand’s steady performance on net income and rising stock price look far more consistent with the steady, positive sentiment of offline conversations versus the volatile—and often negative—discussion in social media. In the trend line below, we see two very negative turns in social media sentiment at the time of the initial announcement on gun sales, and later when Dick’s was among several brands criticized for being anti-conservative in a widely shared tweet that predicted Dick’s being relegated to the “dustbin of history.” 019-05 EL07 DICKS BLOG CHART v1-01 The divergence of online and offline conversations is not unusual.  As our award-winning analysishas shown, there is very little correlation between online and offline conversations, even though both matter a great deal to business outcomes. Engagement Labs helps companies assess risks and opportunities that are revealed by tracking both online and offline consumer conversations.  For more information, contact us today.

Game of Thrones Wins Word-of-Mouth War

Most Talked about TV Show in 12 Years

iron-man-standing-drogon Two of the great entertainment franchises—the Avengers and Game of Thrones—went head-to-head this Spring, and initially it appeared the Avengers had the upper hand in our TotalSocial measurement platform, as we reported earlier this month. But just as the Battle of Winterfell was prelude to the Fall of King’s Landing, the Avengers’ victory was fleeting as the Game of Thrones finale propelled it to ultimate victory as the most talked about television program we’ve measured in a dozen years, ranking second only to Star Wars: The Force Awakens, among entertainment brands.  



Game of Thrones has one more week to improve on its record with the benefit of delayed viewing and as conversations about the final plot twists continue. We may even see the first hint of fan disappointment in the way major plotlines were resolved. Yet it is hard to imagine that another week of talk will allow GoT to knock off Star Wars as the word of mouth champ for entertainment. Star Wars hit an astonishing level of 276 million conversation impressions the week of its release in 2015. In terms of recent television history, Game of Thrones has edged ahead of American Idol all the way back in April of 2007, the series’ sixth season, won by Jordin Sparks. Not in 12 years has any television series been so talked about as the Game of Thrones this month. Beating out American Idol twelve years ago is no small feat, because that show owns nine of the 15 biggest weeks in television word of mouth since 2007.GoT vs Avengers updatedTelevision audiences today are much more fractured than they used to be.  Unfortunately, our TotalSocial measurement system doesn’t go back far enough to provide comparisons to major series finales like MASHCheers, and Seinfeld.  

Game of Thrones Picks Up Where American Idol Left Off

Game of Thrones Picks Up Where American Idol Left Off To put our current era in perspective, all three of those 20th century finales had at least quadruple the audience of the final Game of Thrones, and likely earned substantially more conversation.  Yet with today’s delayed streaming, none of these great finales is completely in the past .  The Great Wars of Audience and Word of Mouth may now rage on forever, particularly with Disney Plus joining the other streaming services with an immense library of content to talk about.

How Victoria’s Secret Lost Consumer Influencers

Victoria’s Secret this month announced the end of its annual televised fashion show that has run for nearly two decades, accepting a negative public verdict as reflected by steep ratings declines, with two-thirds of its network TV audience disappearing over the last five years. Much of the media coverage has focused on the brand being out of step with the #metoo era, and objectifying women, particularly after an executive was quoted for ruling out transgender models. The story shows up in consumer conversations—but not in the way you might expect.   Drawing from the TotalSocial® platform, we can see that conversations about Victoria’s Secret remain quite positive, on par with prior years.  About 80% of offline conversations are positive, as are 40% of conversations in social media.  There’s also been no uptick in negative conversations, as you might expect if the brand were offending lots of consumers.  


VICTORIA’S SECRET HAS RETAINED GENERALLY POSITIVE CONVERSATIONS In a way, Victoria’s Secret is suffering a worse fate: Irrelevance.  The volume of conversations about the brand is crashing hard.  Just before the recent announcement, the brand hit a three-year low in the number of people participating in a conversation about the brand in a single week, just 6 million, about half the historical level for the brand.  Mentions in social media also hit a new low, under 10,000 mentions per week.  The decline in conversations has been very steep among adults over 25 years of age, while rising among the youngest consumers.  In the last six months, half of all people talking about the brand were under 25, a rather narrow target for a mass market brand.  


VICTORIA’S SECRET LOSING CONVERSATION VOLUME, OFFLINE AND ONLINE Another bad sign for the brand is that they are rarely being talked about by Conversation Catalysts®, the 1 in 10 consumers who are most apt to give advice and have large real-world social networks. We have written about these consumers extensively because the deliver four times the “social value” of other consumers. In a downturn that started a year ago, these consumer influencers are not more likely to talk about the brand than the average person. In years past, they were two and three times more likely to talk about the brand.  


019-05 EL04 VICTORIA'S SECRETS GRAPHS-03 Influencers are focused on different issues these days.  They are more than twice as likely as the average person to talk about the environment, immigration, gun policy, and elections.  When it comes to retailers, today’s influencers are more focused on Whole Foods, HomeGoods, and Trader Joe’s than to Victoria’s Secret. The famous circus promoter P.T. Barnum is quoted as having said “I don’t care what you say about me, just spell my name right.”  Implicit in his quote is the idea that even negative publicity is better than no publicity.   And that’s the problem Victoria Secret is having—while conversations remain positive, they are dropping out of the national conversation, especially among the most influential consumers.   Cultivate strategies that would put the power of everyday influencers to work in driving business outcomes. Download the Admap article  

Poland Spring Gets A Taste of Negativity, Online & Offline

polandspringfraudlawsuit For the first time, consumer conversations about Poland Spring brand water are turning sharply negative online and offline simultaneously, in response to a US District Court’s decision to hear a class-action lawsuit alleging fraud by the leading bottled water brand. In a late March ruling, the US District Court Judge in Connecticut agreed to hear a revised case accusing Nestle Waters, owner of Poland Spring, of misrepresenting its product as “spring water” when it is actually drawn from wells.  According to the suit, the original Poland Spring ran dry five decades ago, and the product contains “not one drop” of spring water today. The case has been underway for two years, but consumer reaction frequently has veered in opposite directions depending on whether you are monitoring conversations in social media or in the real world. Engagement Labs research has found this to be quite common, as conversations in social media are not strongly correlated to conversations that happen offline, even though both have big impacts  on consumer purchases. When the suit first came to light, in August 2017, Poland Spring’s online “net sentiment” dropped sharply into negative territory, because more people were talking negatively about the brand than positively. Yet the offline conversation went in an opposite direction and became more positive during the same time frame. Later, in May 2018 when the initial suit was dismissed on technical grounds, the offline conversation turned less positive than usual, while the online conversation barely changed. But now, with the judge permitting the suit to go forward, both types of conversation have gone in a negative direction, beginning with the social media conversation, followed by the offline conversation about four weeks later. POLAND SPRING NET SENTIMENT Confirming the impact of the lawsuit, the word “fraud” and “colossal fraud” turn up prominently in negative discussions about Poland Spring in 2017 and 2018.

Frequent Words in the Negative Online Conversation in 2017 and 2019

2017 Poland Spring Online Word Cloud


2019 Poland Spring Online Word Cloud

2019 Poland Spring Online Word Cloud Why is the current situation so negative for the brand, both online and offline?  One likely reason is that the lawsuit seems to have engaged very influential consumers in the conversation about Poland Spring.  Starting from the initial filing during the summer of 2017, the people engaged in offline discussions about the brand have been three to four times more likely than the average person to be a word of mouth influencer, or what we call Conversation Catalyst®, as shown in the following chart. POLAND SPRING INFLUENCE Conversation Catalysts are people with large real-world social networks, and with a strong inclination to share their opinions with other people.  That has made Poland Spring increasingly susceptible to the spread of criticism about the brand.  That’s potentially the key reason why the offline conversations have turned less positive toward the brand in the weeks following the recent court announcement. By monitoring both the online and offline conversations about a brand, marketers are better able to assess the scale of risk facing a brand.  Today, Poland Spring needs to be concerned that a lawsuit challenging the central value proposition of “spring water” from the rural state of Maine is dangerous to brand health given that influential consumers are being impacted by the news, and the fact that the criticism is showing up both online and offline.   Is your brand reputation at risk? Sign Up for a TotalSocial Briefing