The much publicized fast-food chicken fight that broke out in August propelled Popeyes up the TotalSocial pecking order from 22nd to 11th place among quick-service restaurant brands, as we anticipated in our pre-Labor Day analysis. The dramatic improvement in the brand’s conversation profile was due to a huge rise in the volume of both online and offline conversations about Popeyes. Social media mentions peaked first, during the week beginning August 19, at about 1.5 million. Offline conversations peaked the following week at a stunning 45 million, reflecting the number of people who were part of an offline conversation about Popeyes. The volume surge put Popeyes in first place for online conversations, and first place for online sharing of brand content. The offline conversation volume surge earned the brand in second place—behind only McDonald’s, which earns many of its conversations due to its overwhelming market share advantage. Indeed, it is a remarkable achievement when a brand ranked 19th in market share grabs second place in offline conversation volume—even if only for a week.
Did the Popeyes quick-service restaurant chain know what kind of fight they were picking when they announced the nationwide roll-out of a New Orleans-style chicken sandwich? Until triggering this latest “chicken war,” Popeyes was positioned far down the QSR pecking order, ranked only 22nd in the industry with a TotalSocial® score of 42.4, reflecting below-average performance in social media and in real-world conversations about the brand. By comparison, Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A owned the top two spots in the TotalSocial® rankings, with Wendy’s the top brand for social media conversation, and Chick-fil-A ranked first for offline conversations. Both brands swiftly squawked back at upstart Popeyes, claiming to have the superior chicken products, and earning widespread retweets.
POPEYES RANKS FAR BEHIND WENDY’S & CHICK-FIL-A AS SOCIAL MEDIA CHICKEN WAR HEATS UP*MarketShare rank among “The QSR 50” for 2018 from QSR magazine. TotalSocial scores from Engagement Labs based on 12 months ending August 18, 2019. While ordinarily thought of as a “burger brand,” Wendy’s became famous for its spicy chicken nuggets in the spring of 2017 when a teenager named Carter Wilkerson asked Wendy’s how many retweets would earn him free nuggets for a year. After Wendy’s answered “18 million,” “nugget boy” went on to claim the all-time champ for retweets, breaking Ellen DeGeneres’ record. Since then, Wendy’s has continued to perform extremely well online, notably this spring when Chance the Rapper’s goosed Wendy’s Twitter account by publicly praying for the return of those Wendy’s spicy nuggets. Savvy marketers at Wendy’s jumped on the opportunity to answer his prayers, generating another Tweet storm. Offline conversations are also trending upward for Wendy’s.
WENDY’S ENJOYED A SURGE IN SOCIAL MEDIA IN RESPONSE TO TWEET BY CHANCE THE RAPPERChick-fil-A jumped into the online fray as well, but the brand’s true success is based on dominating the offline conversation. The brand has, by far, the QSR category’s highest offline “net sentiment” score, 80.3, 10 points ahead of number-two Dunkin’ Donuts, due to much more positive than negative offline conversations. Chick-fil-A is the QSR brand that people gush about, although the love does not extend to social media where its score is merely 32.9. When one compares TotalSocial scores to market share, some dramatic contrasts stand out. The top three brands—Chipotle at number three, in addition to Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A, are all socially punching well above their market presence weight. At the other extreme, a few market leaders perform poorly on the TotalSocial index: McDonald’s, Burger King, and Subway. Only Starbucks earns a place among the top four both in terms of market share and TotalSocial® score. TotalSocial metrics have been shown to be forward-looking, meaning that market performance tends to improve for highly ranked TotalSocial® brands, and to decline for lower-ranked ones. How will Popeyes emerge from its game-of-chicken against two TotalSocial champs? Will the brand land on a higher perch in the category? Popeyes TotalSocial Online score rose to its highest level in three years on the eve of the counter-attacks by Wendy’s and Chick-fil-A. Check back after Labor Day to see which brand is crowing, and which is eating crow.
Political Joke Explodes in Social Media, but Offline Clorox Conversations Have Been Building for MonthsWhen the CMO of Clorox said last year his marketing strategy was “trying to get people to have the right conversations” about his brands, he surely did not anticipate the phrase “Clorox the Oval Office” would enter the American lexicon during the Democratic Party presidential debates the following summer. In what was widely described as the “line of the night,” Senator Kristin Gillibrand of New York claimed her first act as president would involve applying the venerable bleach brand to the surfaces of the most powerful office in the land. Consumer conversations in social media exploded on her use of the suggestive phrase, more than doubling the brand’s previous social media high. As we reported last December, Clorox’s emphasis on conversation was already helping it to stand out in a category that is rarely a big topic of conversation—but they have been doing it in the real world, with steadily rising levels of offline conversation. Over the last two years, the brand had regularly been the topic of more than 40 million conversations per week, compared to about 30 million per week previously. Eric Reynolds, the Clorox CMO, said last October that he is changing the brand’s approach to marketing, to make it more “conversational.”
“There will be more marketing, but it’ll be less obvious. It’ll be more inside people’s lives. People are going to be going to their trusted networks for information, not their traditional media.” – Eric Reynolds, CloroxData from the TotalSocial platform demonstrate that the brand has had considerable success with its conversation strategy. Time will tell whether Clorox receives any lasting additional benefit from the New York Senator’s turn of phrase, either in terms of offline conversation or purchases. From the Senator’s perspective, the more pressing question is whether her memorable line has sufficiently boosted her profile to earn a spot on the debate stage in September. As of this writing, she has not yet reached the polling threshold required to qualify. Back in 1984, presidential candidate Walter Mondale memorably ripped-off the Wendy’s hamburger catch-phrase “Where’s the beef?” in a Democratic nomination debate but lost in the general election to Ronald Reagan. Meantime, the brand did extremely well. Wendy’s enjoyed a 31% increase in revenues based on the popular phrase.
But It’s Macy’s with the Big Problem: Too Little Offline ConversationIn July, Macy’s and Forever 21 got themselves into social media trouble for business decisions that struck many consumers as hostile to “plus-size” women. While both took their lumps in social media, it is Macy’s with the bigger problem—not enough conversation in the real world. On July 21, a Twitter user named Alie Ward posted a photo and comment on Twitter declaring that a novelty dinner plate sold at Macy’s was a form of fat shaming, decorated as it was with concentric serving-size circles labeled “mom jeans” at the outer perimeter of the plate, and “skinny jeans” for the small circle in the middle. The same week, online shoppers of Forever 21started sharing their anger in social media after receiving free Atkins “diet bars” samples with their plus-sized apparel orders. Both brands have seen sharp, downward trends in the “net sentiment” of social media conversations, as people share more negative and fewer positive opinions about the brands. In fact, by late July the two brands were approaching net sentiment scores of zero, meaning negative and mixed comments were offsetting nearly all the positive ones.
Online Sentiment Goes Negative for Macy’s, Forever 21As we have seen in many other cases of outrage against brands in social media, the trend has not translated into negativity in the “real world.” The net sentiment of face-to-face conversations about Macy’s have remained rather constant. Meanwhile, Forever 21’s net sentiment has improved a bit, probably reflecting a long-term trend rather than a response to the diet bar sampling, which the company said involved buyers of all garments, not just plus sized.
Offline Sentiment Remains Strong for Both Brands, Despite “Fat Shaming” IncidentsRegardless of whether the negativity about fat-shaming moves offline in the coming weeks, Macy’s is facing a bigger word-of-mouth problem than Forever 21. The venerable department store retailer is being talked about less often now than at any time in the last three years. The long-term trend suggests the relevance of Macy’s to consumers is fading quickly.
Macy’s Offline Conversation at Lowest Level in 3 YearsForever 21, on the other hand, appears to be holding up in terms of offline conversation levels over the last three years, despite some volatility. It may not be possible for people to remain 21-years-old forever, but the fast-fashion brand is having some success at remaining relevant, despite the occasional marketing mistake.
Huawei, O2 Also Move Up List of Brands Earning Strong Online & Offline ConversationThe EE mobile phone brand (formerly, Everything Everywhere) is both the market leader in the United Kingdom, and the topic of the strongest consumer conversations in the category, earning a TotalSocial score of 55.4, the highest of any UK telecom brand in the first half of 2019. The brand has improved its ranking by three places compared to a year ago. EE has the best Online TotalSocial Score of all UK telecom brands, scoring above the category average for all four online metrics: Volume, Sentiment, Brand Sharing, and Influence. EE also gets the second most volume of offline conversation, trailing only iPhone, which is ranked 7th overall for conversation volume. The Chinese brand Huawei is ranked second, up from third a year ago. Huawei’s strengths are offline conversation, for which is ranked first. It also ranks first for earning the most online conversation volume, although many of the social media conversation about the brand are negative. The brand has been accused by the United States of enabling the Chinese government to spy on citizens of western countries, and this topic is evident in UK-based social media discussions about the brand. The third-ranked brand is O2, up 3 positions versus a year ago. The O2 brand does better than most of its competitors in being talked about by both online and offline influencers, and it gets a lot of offline conversation as a result of people talking about O2 advertising. The brand has recently been running an innovative campaign emphasizing custom plans suited for the “individuality” of human beings. Two brands have dropped off the Top Ten TotalSocial list: Mobile phone makers HTC, which plummeted 8 positions to 15th, and Nokia which dropped 3 positions to 13th. The decline of HTC was particularly dramatic in terms of offline performance, falling from an offline TotalSocial Score of 52.7 a year ago to just 26.4 in the first half of 2019, thanks to much lower offline conversation volume, sentiment, and conversations about the brands advertising. 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.
Social Media Turns Negative, But Company Has Cause to Declare: “I Will Survive”TripAdvisor, the leading source of consumer reviews for travel, is earning mixed reviews itself, according to the Engagement Labs TotalSocial® platform that measures online and offline consumer conversations about brands. In mid-July, online conversation sentiment plummeted for the brand, from a net sentiment score of +31 to +17, as negative conversations have increased. Two controversies seem to be driving the negative shift in social media. On July 9, the human rights group Amnesty International revived efforts to pressure TripAdvisor to stop listing sites in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank. The rights group wants Trip Advisor—and Airbnb Expedia, and Booking.com—to stop supporting travel in “illegal Israel settlements.” Then on July 19, TripAdvisor went on the offensive on another hot button issue—LGBTQ+ rights—by writing a “cease and desist” letter to the organizers of a “Straight Pride Parade” who falsely claimed they were negotiating with TripAdvisor to sponsor their Boston event in August. In the letter, TripAdvisor used a unique combination of humor and legalese to demonstrate opposition to an event widely perceived as anti-gay. The letter managed to write into the letter the titles to over a dozen songs popular with the LGBTQ+ community—from “I Will Survive” to “I’m Coming Out,” and from “Over the Rainbow” to “Born This Way”. While social media sentiment dropped in mid-July for the TripAdvisor brand, the opposite is happening in offline conversations. In conversations happening at water coolers and kitchen tables, more people in recent weeks are saying positive things about TripAdvisor. The brand in mid-July was enjoying an offline net sentiment score of +60. Despite the twin controversies, the brand is doing fine in the roughly 6 million weekly TripAdvisor conversations happening offline. The divergent trends between online and offline conversations about brands is something we have seen frequently in recent years, amid a highly polarized political environment. Brands as diverse as Citibank, Delta, Dick’s Sporting Goods, Starbucks, Nike, Publix, and many others have seen their online and offline conversations take off in opposite directions. Negative reaction is generally much more common in social media, which tends to attract extreme opinions, and can send a false signal. As a digital-first brand, TripAdvisor’s marketing skills appear well suited to a social media environment, where “trolling” an adversary like the organizers of “Straight Pride Parade” can please customers and activate the LGBTQ market, a key travel constituency. But it’s worth noting the pay-off is happening in real-life, face-to-face conversations, which our analytics have shownare responsible for about 10% of all consumer purchases. Marketers cannot assume the signal they see if social media is giving them the full picture.
Offline Conversations Rise, Stay PositiveNike 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 AgainIn “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.
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. 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.
Yet Offline Conversation Remains Immune to Online DramaWe’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 ConversationsTrying 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 OfflineThat 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
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. 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).