Emirates Remains TotalSocial Leader Amid British Travel Industry Turbulence

In Consumer Conversations, Booking.com, P&O, and British Airways All Rising as Thomas Cook Crashes

emiratesthomascook Emirates Airlines remains the TotalSocial leader in the travel category, thanks to very positive conversations among influential consumers.  The brand’s TotalSocial score of 60.6 is highest among travel service providers, up from 57.8 in 2018. Meantime, several brands have been rising in the rankings.  Booking.com moved up to second place, up from fifth, thanks to very strong offline conversations generally.  P&O Cruises moved to third from seventh, on the strength of the best online conversation volume among all brands for the 12 months ending September 2019. And the venerable British Airways brand rose from eighth to fourth, thanks to high volume of online and offline conversations, and due to high levels of “brand sharing,” which means the brand’s marketing and advertising are stimulating both online and offline conversations. Some of those conversations are related to heartwarming commercials this year celebrating the airline’s 100th anniversary.  


Top 10 UK TotalSocial for British Travel Brands Another venerable British travel brand failed to make the TotalSocial “top ten” list, the 178-year-old Thomas Cook company that collapsed suddenly in September, stranding 150,000 Britons away on holiday. Thomas Cook ranked only 18th this year, down from 15th in 2018. The brand performed especially poorly on sentiment among 36 travel brands, ranking 8th from the bottom for offline sentiment and 5th from the bottom for online sentiment.  As one would expect, in the days following the collapse, sentiment has turned much worse, especially offline (see chart below). It’s also noteworthy that among the TotalSocial top ten travel brands are Expedia, Airbnb, and Skyscanner—three brands credited with undermining the Thomas Cook business model of affordable travel packages. Even before the financial collapse, Thomas Cook had a turbulent year.  In March the company was embroiled in a controversy over a young woman passenger who was told she was dressed inappropriately and needed to “cover up” her crop top, or get off the plane. The incident got wide media coverage, including on the ITV program “This Morning,” leading to plummeting sentiment in online conversations but extremely positive ones in offline discussions. Online and offline conversations often go in opposite directions, in this case likely because the social media audience tends to be young, whereas offline conversations are more widely representative, including older and more conservative people as well as younger.  


THOMAS COOK SENTIMENT TURBULENT BEFORE THE CRASH The collapse of Thomas Cook presents opportunities for other brands. Virgin Atlantic, currently ranked eighth, jumped in via Twitter to offer passengers flights home from Cuba, Jamaica, and the United States, leading to improvements in online volume and brand sharing during the last weeks of September.   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.

Foot Locker Struggles to Get into the Right Conversation

Tragedy & Comedy Lift Discussion, but Not Results

Foot Locker Struggles to Get into the Right Conversation Foot Locker became the topic of millions of additional face-to-face conversations in recent months, first due to the tragic mass shooting in El Paso in early August, in which a heroic, off-duty soldier emerged from a Foot Locker store to help guide children to safety. Then in September, New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan joked after a bad call against him that the NFL referees were “Foot Locker” store clerks, who wear referee uniforms. The two incidents prompted millions of conversations about the athletic footwear and apparel retailer, but probably not the kind of discussions that lead to purchases. That’s too bad, because most of the spring and summer, the Foot Locker brand was suffering a conversational drought, the longest the brand has experienced in three years (See chart below). The lull in Foot Locker conversations cannot be explained as a category phenomenon, as Nike, Adidas, and Dick’s Sporting Goods were all stable throughout the same period.  


FOOT LOCKER SUFFERED SUMMERTIME CONVERSATION LULL Not surprisingly, that downturn in Foot Locker conversation coincided with some poor business results. At midyear, sales were close to flat versus the prior year, earnings were down 12%, and the stock price fell 5%.  As we have reported before, there is a solid connection between consumer conversations and sales, suggesting the Foot Locker brand needs to generate more productive consumer conversations that involve recommendations and the sharing of brand’s content, both online and offline. Foot Locker has tried to leverage Cam Jordan’s joke by sending products with a note that said, gamely, “we’ve got your back… and feet.”  That gambit yielded a Tweet and picture from the Pro Bowl player. The company is also making several other moves to increase its connection with middle-aging Generation X, including “community-based Power Stores,” new digital retail technology, and exclusive products unique to specific stores. It will be a few months before we know whether those latest marketing maneuvers will produce results at the water cooler and at the cash register.

Social Media Fails to Predict Offline Reaction When Brands Take Stands on Gun Violence

walmartgunpolicy-1 The nation’s biggest and best-known brands increasingly are stepping into fraught political topics, particularly gun violence. This week,  145 companies signed a letter addressed to the United State Senate urging action to curb gun violence. How are consumers reacting? In the wake of the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, FL, Engagement Labs’ TotalSocial platform found that online and offline conversations trended very differently for brands such as Dick’s Sporting Goods, Citibank, Delta, MetLife, and Publix. Generally, social media conversations about brands taking stands to curb gun violence have turned negative, while real-world conversations remained positive. This reinforces a more generalized finding we have found, namely, that there is little correlation between the online and offline conversation. That pattern is holding up again following the horrific mass shooting that killed 22 and injured 24 people in an El Paso Walmart on August 3.  Walmart and other retailers have begun announcing policies to discourage customers from openly carrying guns in their stores, even in states that permit “open carry.” Walmart also announced in September a series of additional policies to curtail the presence of guns in its stores, including an end to the sale of assault rifles and pistols, although hunting rifles will continue to be sold at Walmart. The response in social media has been quite negative for Walmart—first, as a result of the horror of the shooting itself, and then due to opposition to policies that limit gun sales and open carry in Walmart stores.  Indeed, the net sentiment of social media conversations about Walmart were the most negative we have measured for Walmart in four years, with negative opinions outweighing positive ones for six consecutive weeks ending September 8.  


WALMART NET SENTIMENT PLUMMETS ONLINE BUT NOT OFFLINE Yet even as the online conversation about Walmart turned very negative, the everyday, face-to-face conversations held up—even improved somewhat.  By the start of September, net sentiment for offline conversations were at +48, meaning positive conversations outweigh negative and mixed ones by 48 percentage points.  That compares to a -10 net sentiment for online discussions about Walmart, the lowest in four years. One reason online and offline conversations differ so much is that social media conversations tend to draw the most extreme opinions, and often do not reflect the broader conversation measured offline.  That’s why we recommend a holistic measurement approach that is available in TotalSocial. Three other retailers that recently made announcements to discourage openly carrying guns on their premises—CVS, Kroger, and Walgreens—have not suffered downturns in conversation sentiment, either online or offline.  


WALMART’S SOCIAL MEDIA DISCUSSION HURT THE MOST BY GUN ISSUE Retailer Fred Meyer, a subsidiary of Kroger, has seen its social media conversation turn negative, but other issues are involved, notably a threatened labor strike over compensation and pay equity.  A sixth retailer, Wegman’s, has held up in social media after announcing its policy on open carry, but its normally very positive offline conversations have deteriorated, more likely due to its efforts to eliminate plastic bags in all stores by year’s end. Thus, it is Walmart who has taken the biggest hit in social media over guns, attracting the focus of attention from critics. What kind of impact might these businesses expect over the longer-term?  Based on the Dick’s Sporting Goods example, there is probably is more upside than downside for all of them. Despite predictions of serious harm to its business, the positive offline conversations were more predictive of future success than the negative social media discussions, as we reported last summer in MediaPost. The fact that 145 companies are going public on the issue signals they have drawn a similar conclusion. Or else they have decided that the scourge of gun violence is so serious, it’s a business risk worth taking.

“Chicken War” Helps Popeyes Hog the Conversation—If Only for a Week

Popeyes_Chicken_Sandwich 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. 019-09 EL02 CHICKEN WAR 2 v3  

For One Week, Popeyes Claimed Second Place in Offline Conversation Volume

019-09 EL02 CHICKEN WAR 2 GRAPH02 v1-02 Popeyes did not rise higher than 11th overall in the TotalSocial rankings because the brand failed to earn a boost on other TotalSocial metrics, most notably, net sentiment.  The chicken war did nothing to improve the ratio of positive to negative conversations about Popeyes, while adversaries Chick fil-A and Wendy’s continue to be conversation sentiment leaders. One reason for the lack of consumer enthusiasm may be the fact that Popeyes couldn’t keep up with the explosion of consumer demand, forcing the end to chicken sandwich sales “for a while.” Yet product scarcity has sometimes been shown to be a powerful driver of demand and word of mouth—by suggesting popularity, and by generating a “fear of missing out.”   If Popeyes can sustain interest as it replenishes product inventory, the brand may be able to capitalize on pent-up demand. Which leaves open the question of whether Chick fil-A and Wendy’s made a mistake in helping to give so much visibility to a chicken rival normally stuck far behind in the pecking order. If nothing else, the chicken war provided a vivid illustration of a fact we’ve proven through sophisticated statistical modeling: Consumer conversations truly drive purchases.

Chick-fil-A in Chicken Fight with Popeyes, but Wendy’s Rules the Roost

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 RAPPER Chick-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.

Clorox the Oval Office?

Political Joke Explodes in Social Media, but Offline Clorox Conversations Have Been Building for Months

trump_gillibrand_clorox When 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.  Online and Offline Volume Metrics for Clorox Brand  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, Clorox
Data 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.

“Fat Shaming” Drives Negative Social Media for Macy’s & Forever 21

But It’s Macy’s with the Big Problem: Too Little Offline Conversation

macysstore_momjeans In 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 21

Online Sentiment Goes Negative for Macy’s, Forever 21 As 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” Incidents

Offline Sentiment Remains strong for Both Brands, Despite “Fat Shaming” Incidents Regardless 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 Years

Macy’s Offline Conversation at Lowest Level in 3 Years Forever 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. Forever 21 appears to be holding up in terms of offline conversation levels over the last three years

EE, Largest UK Mobile Services Company, Also Ranked #1 in Latest TotalSocial Ranking

Huawei, O2 Also Move Up List of Brands Earning Strong Online & Offline Conversation

ee_uktop10_5g The 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. Top 10 UK TotalSocial Telecom Brands 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.

TripAdvisor Earning Mixed Reviews in Consumer Conversations

Social Media Turns Negative, But Company Has Cause to Declare: “I Will Survive”

TripAdvisor Earning Mixed Reviews in Consumer Conversations 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”. TripAdvisor Online and Offline Net Sentiment 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.

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.