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. 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. 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. 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 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. 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. 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. 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 email@example.com or request a briefing below.
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.” 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.
Most Talked about TV Show in 12 YearsTwo 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 BEATS AVENGERS IN DRIVING CONVERSATIONS
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.Television 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 MASH, Cheers, and Seinfeld.
Game of Thrones Picks Up Where American Idol Left OffTo 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.
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 CONVERSATIONSIn 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 ONLINEAnother 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.
CONSUMER INFLUENCERS ARE LOSING INTEREST IN VICTORIA’S SECRETInfluencers 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
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. 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 CloudWhy 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. 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
Marvel’s “Endgame” drives 50% more Buzz than Game of Thrones
Iron Man deserves the Iron Throne. While delivering the biggest opening box office weekend in U.S. history, the movie Avengers: Endgame, drove 50% more fan conversation as did the final season of Game of Thrones. During the week ending April 28, Americans engaged in conversation about the Avengers movie 91 million times, versus 60 million for Game of Thrones, which recently launched its final season and aired a highly anticipated episode against the Avengers release. It was word-of-mouth equivalent of Batman vs. Superman or Ali vs. Frasier. A lineup of more than 20 Avengers super heroes—including Iron Man, Captain America, and Black Widow—who easily stole the iron throne of Westeros from Cersei Lannister, Jon Snow, and Daenerys Targaryen. In fact, both franchises are proven drivers of consumer conversations, but never have they released so close to each other, creating enormous competition for attention. Indeed, both fell short of their prior records. A year ago, the movie Avengers: Infinity War hit 107 million consumer conversation impressions in a single week, whereas in 2017 Game of Thrones hit its own record of 78 million. Conversation impressions are an estimate of the number of instances that people were exposed to conversations about the topic.
Conversation Trends for Avengers, Game of ThronesIn the weeks ahead, both franchises will have opportunities to beat their old records, since movie conversation levels sometimes build after the opening week, and the finale of a notable TV series usually drives lots of fan talk.
Sentiment for Avengers vs. Game of ThronesBesides beating GoT in conversation volume, Avengers won in another way, too. People who talked about Avengers were almost universally positive about the film. The movie earned a remarkable “Net Sentiment” score of 91, which is calculated by subtracting negative and mixed sentiment (only 4%) from the staggeringly high positive sentiment about the movie (95%). The net sentiment for Game of Thrones was 64, based on 15% negative and mixed sentiment subtracted from 79% positive. Avengers: Endgame also appealed to a wider range of fans. The people talking about Avengers were more balanced between males (54%) and females (46%) compare to GoT (66% male; 34% female). Also, Avengers talkers were both younger and older than the Game of Thrones fans. Fully 31% of those talking about the Avengers movie are under 21 years of age, versus 14% of those talking about Game of Thrones. In addition, 17% of people talking about Avengers were in their 50s, compared to just 8% for Game of Thrones, which performed most strongly among people in their 30s. But in something of a consolation prize, Game of Thrones beat Avengers by 60% in the volume of conversation it received in the United Kingdom. While this might be due to the decidedly British feel of the GoT franchise versus the more American sensibility of the Avengers, it is more likely because of a pattern of British television shows beating movies in fan engagement, in contrast to the US where, among television programs, Game of Thrones is the clear leader. Neither Game of Thrones nor Avengers came close to defeating the word-of-mouth champion of the entertainment industry in America—Star Wars. The 2015 release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens produced 276 million conversation impressions in the US, more than triple the level of the recent Avengers movie. In fact, both Star Wars movies in 2015 and 2017 had four weeks bigger in terms of conversation volume than any Avengers movie.
Biggest Conversation Weeks for TV and Movies
Conversation impressions for weekly winnersBoth Star Wars releases in 2015 and 2017 were released just prior to Christmas, and this may have been crucial to driving conversations levels to record levels. The films have multi-generational appeal and were released when families were spending lots of time together. Kudos to the word-of-mouth marketing strategy behind the Star Wars franchise. The marketers behind the Avengers may have stolen the fictional Seven Kingdoms here on Earth, but the marketing team behind Star Wars controls the Galactic Empire.
Basketball great Dwyane Wade finished his NBA career this month having scored 23,165 points and made 5,701 assists during a 16-year career. One of his final acts was a marketing assist for Budweiser that scored bigger than Budweiser’s recent Super Bowl commercials, generating a surge of positive social media consumer conversations about the beer brand. On April 9 Wade appeared in his final home game for the Miami Heat where players and spectators enjoyed a special evening of tributes. One tribute was a four-minute video sponsored by Budweiser beer in which Wade heard from five people about the enormous, positive impacts he had on their lives. The five thanked Wade for:
- off-the-court generosity toward the family of a teenager killed at the Parkland, FL shooting
- supporting a family that lost everything in a house fire
- helping a young woman who needed help with college tuition
- being a role model to a young man who needed it
- sticking by his mother while she spent time in prison for “going down the wrong path”
ONLINE MENTIONS OF BUDWEISER HIGHER THAN DURING RECENT SUPER BOWL WEEKEven more impressive, Budweiser’s online net sentiment—positive minus negative comments about the brand online—rose to the highest level ever measured for the brand we have ever measured. In fact, for the week ending April 14, 2019, Budweiser had the highest online net sentiment we have measured in a year for any beer brand! In social media, Budweiser’s tribute to Dwyane Wade generated remarkable levels of brand love.
BUDWEISER’S ONLINE SENTIMENT AT HIGHEST LEVEL IN THREE YEARSThe reaction on social media has involved incredible levels of content sharing, much greater than what Budweiser experienced during the recent Super Bowl. On YouTube the Wade commercial has been viewed nearly 5 million times by late April. Engagement Labs has a metric called brand sharing, which measures the degree to which people are sharing the brand’s content on social media or talking about the brand’s advertising in offline conversations. Both the online and offline brand sharing metrics have shot up to their highest levels in three years, suggesting the Wade video has been an enormous driver of engagement.
BUDWEISER ‘BRAND SHARING’ LEVELS AT RECORD LEVELS, ONLINE AND OFFLINEAll of this matters for Budweiser because, as we’ve written in the MIT Sloan Management Review, research shows that both online and offline conversations drive purchases. But to achieve success in driving those conversations, brands need to think beyond paid television advertisingand tell compelling stories, as Budweiser did with Dwyane Wades’ assist. What’s Dwyane Wade going to do after his basketball retirement? We suspect he’s taking more than a few meetings with the nation’s leading marketers. SIGN ME UP TotalSocial Briefing
After years of beating the drum on the huge differences between consumer conversations online and those that happen offline—in “real life”—we are happy to have some prestigious company. A new report by the Hidden Tribes Project reported in The New York Times concludes “the Democratic electorate on Twitter is not the actual Democratic electorate.” The study finds that while 53% of Democratic party voters “in real life” are moderate or conservative, the same is true of only 28% of the more left-leaning Democrats who post opinions on Twitter. Writing in The New York Times, data journalists Nate Cohn and Kevin Quealy conclude “it would also be a mistake to assume that outrage on social media means outrage throughout the broader electorate.” At Engagement Labs, we’ve seen the same pattern impacting the consumer marketplace for several years since we launched our TotalSocial data and analytics platform that measures both online and offline conversation trends for brands. Most recently we wrote about the near-opposite reactions that Gillette experienced in social media versus “real life” when it launched a campaign to encourage men to be more respectful of women. In social media, the reaction was strongly negative, dominated by Twitter users who thought Gillette should stay out of social issues like the #metoo movement. In offline conversations the reaction was moderately positive.
TOXIC MASCULINITY CAMPAIGN DROVE GILLETTE’S NEGATIVE SENTIMENT ONLINE BUT NOT OFFLINESimilarly, after Dick’s Sporting Goods announced it would stop selling assault rifles and restrict other gun purchases, the reaction online was very negative while the company received a much more positive offline reaction. Across a list of nearly 600 brands we measure continuously in the US, we find that net sentiment—positive conversations minus negative ones—are barely correlated to each other on a week-to-week basis. The trend correlation is about zero, on average, as we have reported in the MIT Sloan Management Review. At the same time, these two data streams both matter, because together they drive 19% of consumer purchases, on average. For the most recent 12 months, many brands in our database have extremely different rankings among nearly 600 brands tracked, depending on whether the conversation is happening online or offline. For example, the Golden Corral restaurant chain is ranked very high in terms of positive offline conversation sentiment, at number 45, putting it in the top 10% of the brands measured. At the same time, Golden Corral is ranked in the bottom 10%, at number 528 in social media, due to having quite negative online sentiment, as indicated in the table below. What accounts for this big difference? In face-to-face conversations about the brand, the consumers primarily talk about the quality of the Golden Corral customer experience—the food, the buffet, the enjoyment, and so on. But the online discussion is mostly related to Golden Corral being an advertiser on the Fox News Channel, and to related criticism and boycotts by a small but digitally vocal slice of consumers. As The New York Times has reported, these social media users are not representative of the broader population. The difference can also be shown graphically in the chart below, called a TotalSocial® TalkScan, revealing very strong offline sentiment compared to very low online sentiment. The opposite situation is found for the American Family Insurance brand. For this brand, the net sentiment online is ranked number 3 among all 574 brands—the top 1%—while offline net sentiment is ranked at number 481, placing it in the bottom 20% of all brands. Why? The low offline sentiment performance of American Family is quite typical of insurance companies, including GEICO, Aetna, MetLife, Allstate. Generally, the insurance category is at a disadvantage—a lot of insurance conversations happen when somebody is sick or injured or made homeless by a disaster—and thus conversations are not particularly positive. Indeed, insurance is about spending money on a product you hope you never use. Yet American Family has been very successful in driving positive online conversations in response to its philanthropic efforts, particularly its Dream Foundation grant program and a related #DreamFearlessly hashtag. These efforts have dominated the positive online discussion about American Family insurance. Many other brands, including Pillsbury, Kaiser Permanente, Body Shop, Windex, Frigidaire, and Ruby Tuesday all have very different sentiment results online versus offline, reinforcing the idea that brands can’t just focus on readily accessible social media trends to understand the health of their brands and reputations. The answer is not to ignore social media, which we have proven is often an important driver of business results. But we can’t generalize from social media to the population as a whole. Rather, marketers and corporate communications professionals need a holistic approach that considers both the digital and the analog consumer reaction that together drive 1 in 5 purchases. As we like to say, the goal for optimizing business performance is to make every conversation count! SIGN ME UP TotalSocial Briefing
Back in 2010, Pepsi dropped out of the Super Bowl, the marquee marketing event Pepsi has sponsored for years, before and since. The game plan was to shift dollars into digital marketing, particularly social media. The experiment proved disappointing, and they quickly returned to the Super Bowl the following year. In 2019 Pepsi sponsored the half-time show for the seventh time in a row, taking advantage of the buzz that the Super Bowl often generates for advertisers. Consumer conversation data from Engagement Labs helps to show why that 2010 digital experiment was unlikely to succeed, and why brands like Pepsi are no longer betting the farm on social media. The beverage category, in fact, is poorly represented in digital conversations, making it difficult for beverage brands in general to rely on an online social media strategy. In the real world, beverages get an enormous share of consumer conversations—12.8% of all face-to-face and voice-to-voice discussion about brands is about beverage brands, second only to retail and apparel brands, which earn 18.0% of the offline discussion. This makes sense because beverages, both alcoholic and non, are highly social. People very often enjoy beverages when together socially with others.
But in social media, beverage brands are merely 1.8% of all conversations. The share of conversation online is just 11% of the share they get offline, the worst ratio of any category measured.Other categories with big shortfalls in social media are household and beauty products, supermarkets, health, and food, all categories that receive in social media less than 30% of the attention they earn in face-to-face conversations. One key reason for this is that three categories—technology, media, and sports, get massively larger shares of social media discussions as they do offline conversations. Sports—teams, leagues, etc.—get eight times as many conversations online as offline. Media brands—TV shows, networks, movies, etc.—get seven times the share online as offline. And technology brands—such as Apple, Samsung, and Sony—get 41% greater share of conversations online compared to offline. The surplus of sports and media category conversations make sense because social media, after all, are media, and increasingly platforms like Facebook and Twitter have become distribution systems for news and entertainment. Every other category, including retail, travel, finance, telecom, and restaurants, get a smaller share of conversations online compared to offline. While people love widely sharing family celebrations and cute household pet videos, consumers are less motivated to share personal finances, favorite condiments, and preferred supermarkets—the ordinary stuff of our lives as consumers. These are conversations more likely to occur face to face or voice to voice. Research by Engagement Labs recently published in the MIT Sloan Management Review shows that both online and offline conversations are important drivers of purchase. On average, 19% of all purchases are driven by conversations, including 10% driven by offline conversations and 9% by online ones. For beverages, the total impact is higher, 22% driven by conversations of both kinds, but the ratio is 13% offline to 9% online. Despite big volume shortfalls in social media, online discussions still an important role in driving purchases even for categories like beverages where the share of online conversation is tiny. The reason is that social media give conversations can be seen by hundreds and sometimes thousands of consumers, whereas offline conversations are usually just among a few close friends or family members. Thus, brands in every category must have a TotalSocial® strategy that includes both offline and digital brand engagement. But too many brands are focusing exclusively on social media to spur social engagement and recommendations for their brands, and that’s a one-sided strategy unlikely to succeed, particularly for grocery staples that are more often talked about over a kitchen table than on Facebook or Twitter. Academic research has found that offline conversations about brands are principally about “emotional sharing,” and focus on everyday products and services. By comparison, social media discussions tend to be about “social signaling,” or wanting to demonstrate one’s superior knowledge and expertise about exciting new products or services. For marketers of packaged goods, that means it’s very important to be stimulating and listening to the conversations that happen in the relative privacy of our homes, automobiles, and workplaces. Every marketer should be thinking beyond social media, but that’s especially true in the categories for which social media discussions fall short of the share that occurs offline. Our advice to marketers: Mind the gap between online and offline conversations.