Sunday, February 9, 2014

The Mind-Boggling Lunacy of People Impressed with Esurance's Super Bowl Campaign

I am deeply disappointed to see Esurance's Super Bowl sweepstakes results widely celebrated. Six years into the social era, I thought we had reached a certain point of social media maturity where we realize that fans and followers are not leads and that relationships are built through shared values and meaningful interactions. I naively thought that we had turned a corner, with widespread understanding that winning in social media occurs by providing great experiences that build long-term relationships and not with campaigns that yield short-term spikes of activity. I was wrong.

You no doubt already know about the Esurance program (which some of you perhaps think is evidence of its success). Esurance bought the first post-Super Bowl ad spot and ran an ad featuring John Krasinski promoting a twitter sweepstakes. Since Esurance "saved" $1.5 million by buying the $2.5 million spot after the game rather than during the Super Bowl, one lucky winner who tweeted #EsuranceSave30 won that $1.5 million.

On Thursday, the brand released campaign figures, and at a glance they looked impressive. Esurance claims to have garnered 5.4 million uses of the #EsuranceSave30 hashtag and 2.6 billion social impressions on Twitter. I have some doubts as to the validity and interpretation of this data, but I will save those for an appendix at the end of this post, because my bigger concern is not about the accuracy of the data but whether this data ought to be celebrated as evidence of marketing or business success.

The attention heaped on Esurance's campaign data is just another instance of bloggers, marketing media and social media professionals celebrating questionable programs based on inconsequential numbers. This has been going on for years; for example, four years ago, Einstein Bagels gave every new Facebook fan a free bagel, and thousands of blog posts and headlines were launched when the brand saw a 7,000% increase in Facebook fans in just three days; six months after the Facebook stunt, Einstein reported disappointing revenue with same-store sales down more than a percent, and two years later, the company had the lowest earnings growth in its industry. The lesson from this (and a thousand other sweepstakes and giveaway programs that "bought" fans) is that fans and followers are not a business metric.

Those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, and once again, there has been an onslaught of articles and blog posts lauding Esurance's short-term metrics. Adweek embarrassingly called the Esurance outcome "mind-boggling," as if it is surprising that a $1.5 million prize would result in millions of tweets. (It would have been more "mind boggling" if the program hadn't!)  The Wall Street Journal breathlessly declared Esurance "won" the Super Bowl. And one agency called this campaign a "master class in expanding your audience."

A $5 million campaign that yields 250,000 new Twitter followers is a "master class" in expanding audience? That represents a very pricey $20 per follower, not even considering that in the week since the Super Bowl, Esurance lost 15% of the new followers it gained. Besides, if fans and followers amounted to some sort of marketing or business asset, Blackberry, with 3.9 million followers, would be flying instead of knocking on death's door; Dippin' Dots would have announced record profits rather than declaring bankruptcy mere days after collecting its 5 millionth Facebook fan; and Pepsi, one of the top 30 brands in terms of Twitter followers, would be blowing away the market rather than under-performing the S&P500 by 50% since the brand joined Twitter in December 2008.

Why must the marketing industry continually relearn that fans and followers are not prospects, nor are they a reliable leading business indicator? The fans that are worth earning--the ones that follow or friend your brand not because of a freebie or sweeps but because they have experienced and loved your product or service--are lagging indicators.

No matter how many millions or billions of eyeballs or impressions were delivered, the Esurance campaign was flawed from the start. It encountered some of the typical issues we have seen with hashtag campaigns in the past, including offensive tweets people posted to enter, spammers and scammers jumping all over the Esurance hashtag and people now convinced the entire thing was rigged. But even aside from the inevitable mixed reaction that greets these sorts of campaigns, there are several issues that must be considered to critically evaluate the results from this and similar social sweepstakes:

Awareness is the right goal--for brands in a different place than Esurance

In most cases, awareness is a lousy goal. Kodak. Borders Books. Woolworth's. Washington Mutual. Oldsmobile. Stop me when I get to a brand that did not enjoy near universal awareness and yet failed anyway. Saab. Pan Am. Palm. Tower Records. Plymouth. Have I gotten to a brand that you do not know yet? Blockbuster. Betamax. Circuit City. Hostess. Pontiac. Sharper Image. All are in the brand graveyard (although a few have risen from the ashes as a shadow of their former selves.)

Awareness can be a legitimate marketing goal under certain circumstances, such as for new products, upstart brands or brands that need to alter brand associations, but why would a brand with a nine-figure marketing budget that has been advertising in national media for a decade still need to invest in awareness? Esurance's VP of Marketing is saying this program was all about awareness, but the brand already has strong awareness. According to JD Power, in 2009 it was the fifth most shopped auto insurance brand; in 2011 it had the sixth highest brand awareness among auto insurers; and Compete reported in 2011 that Esurance had the fourth-highest prospect and application shares among auto insurers. 

Esurance has some brand problems, but awareness is not one of them. For instance, it offers a full line of insurance products but is too frequently associated only with auto. The brand also has perception issues to address; a 2012 Millward Brown tracking study found that the perception of Esurance's quality and value significantly lags that of its competitors. The brand is among the most recognized insurance brands but sits in the lowest quadrant in terms of both quality and value perception, so why is it investing in awareness campaigns?

I do not know the answer to that question, nor will you find an answer in the hundreds of blog posts and articles written in the past week about the Esurance campaign. No one thought to explore if this brand ought to be investing in multi-million-dollar campaigns to drive awareness. Bloggers and marketing writers merely gave knee-jerk praise to the #EsuranceSave30 numbers without considering Esurance's unique marketing challenges or business needs.

Awareness can't lead to trial and purchase without depth and breadth

Setting aside the question of whether Esurance should have been investing in awareness as a marketing goal, let's instead consider if big-dollar sweepstakes actually deliver awareness that matters. The lack of understanding of awareness among marketers has been one of my pet peeves for two decades. Awareness isn't unidimensional; brands cannot simply count impressions or measure whether or not people recognize its name.

For awareness to matter, it has to have depth and breadth. Depth is how deeply the awareness is held and whether the consumer can recall it aided or unaided. Breadth is about context--when does the brand come to mind, how positive are the associations, and what does the consumer recognize about the brand. Most social sweepstakes and giveaways are good for garnering narrow, shallow awareness--impressive-sounding numbers with no impact to the vital aspects of brand awareness.

What depth of awareness has Esurance created with this campaign? The brand utilized Twitter not to create dialog or engagement but as a means of entering a sweepstakes. Claiming that these impressions are meaningful to the brand would be akin to saying that someone photocopying their paper entry form and mailing it to friends creates valuable brand impressions.

And what breadth was created? The buzz today, if you look at Twitter, is focused on three topics--the success of the social campaign, that people are disappointed they did not win, and that some think the contest was rigged. What you do not see is a discussion of the value of insurance or why anyone should consider Esurance. There is no dialog about Esurance products or services. There is no breadth. It is not good enough to get people talking; you have to get them talking about something that changes brand perception or behaviors.

People will claim that perhaps this is the next step in the campaign--after collecting a bunch of new followers, the brand will shift the conversation. That argument ignores the way social media works and how consumers use it. The brand is already shedding many of its new followers, and the ones that remain are no more likely to pay attention to tweets about insurance products than the average consumer. We have seen it time and again with brands that collect fans and followers with cheap stunts and free stuff: the path through the marketing funnel from Twitter follower to customer is extremely weak.

To be fair, it is possible to run a sweepstakes that creates awareness with depth and breadth. My friend Ken Hittel shared a New York Life example. The brand ran a contest to give away 60 financial versions of The Game Of Life board game. By keeping the reward small and focusing not on distributing money but on a relevant promotional item, New York Life created deeper, broader awareness and kept the dialog going (for a tiny fraction of the cost of Esurance program).

If it's too easy, that tells you something

Another one of the hints that there may be less to this story than the data indicates is this: The program was easy. Since the beginning of the social era, marketers have been trying to find simple ways to exploit social media for their advantage, but success in social media is not straightforward, nor should it be. If brands could honestly build interest, purchase intent and sales merely by dumping a bunch of cash into a hashtag sweeps, Twitter would be full of these sorts of promotions. Nothing worth doing comes easy, and any social program this shockingly easy to execute and repeat ought to raise doubts.

The funny thing is how easy it is to see this program for what it is if you remove the dazzle of the post-Super Bowl ad spot and the reflexive excitement over the big numbers. For example, what if tomorrow I offer to give away $500 to someone who posts #AugieRayRocks and follows my Twitter handle? You would not advise this tactic to me or anyone else, would you? This hypothetical program is obviously spammy and impractical, more inclined to collect useless followers who want to win cash than worthwhile followers interested in my content. So what makes Esurance's campaign different? If anything, the huge wad of dough offered by Esurance only made their effort more interesting to less valuable prospects, the kind who haunt sweepstakes sites and spend hours every week entering random contests.

Esurance isn't the first brand to buy fans with a giveaway or sweepstakes. Marketers have been trying this for years. Five years ago, in the early days of Twitter, UK hosting company Moonfruit launched what may be the first hashtag sweeps on Twitter, but traffic and engagement dropped like a stone the moment the program ended, and the company did not repeat it. Einstein gave away free bagels to increment Facebook friends; as we have previously noted, it did not drive demonstrable success and the brand never repeated the program. If brand success were as easy as giving away stuff on Twitter, we would all be doing it already.


Social media is not new any longer. We have seen enough brands fold with strong awareness and lots of fans to know that there are far more important metrics than awareness and follower count. We have observed enough sweeps and giveaways to know that the brands that ran them did not get the sort of results that encouraged them to continue using those tactics (or they would do so). It is long past time to stop shoveling shallow praise at shallow programs yielding shallow results.

I believe the social media marketing business is in for a rough couple of years as the value of branded content changes and marketers gain further understanding of how social does and does not fit for marketing goals. On Facebook, marketers face collapsing engagement and even greater challenges this year as the opportunity for earned media dwindles. Twitter is struggling to demonstrate it can deliver the goods both to marketers and investors. New social networks are being promoted as the next big thing, but thus far scale has been truly problematic. (Many marketers praised Tide for its creative use of Vine during the Super Bowl, but just one of the brand's 19 videos earned more than 500 shares and most did not get shared even 100 times on Vine--an outcome that may thrill the corner boutique but not marketing leaders for a massive P&G brand.)

To have so much attention heaped on Esurance with so little care given to whether Twitter sweeps fit the brand's needs, if Esurance can convert followers into customers at any reasonable scale and efficiency, or if the program will or can contribute to the bottom line is, in my opinion, an embarrassment to the industry. The amazing level of buzz demonstrates how quickly social media professionals grab onto any hint of success and how unwilling they are to deeply explore and challenge the ways social fits (or doesn't) with marketing objectives.

I thought our industry was maturing, but once again I am reminded that too many marketers believe social is a medium to be exploited by brands and not a new way of thinking and acting that happens to brands.

Postscript: The validity and interpretation of the reported data:

I know this blog post is more than long enough already, but I wanted to explore the data and whether it jibes with what we know about Twitter. I would have included this analysis earlier, but I thought it would detract from the primary point I wanted to make; nonetheless, I think if we fire up our calculators and apply our experience, we can begin to uncover questions about the data shared for this program.

The figures imply each tweet was seen 481 times (2.6 billion social impressions divided by 5.4 million uses of the #EsuranceSave30 hashtag).  I've seen some data indicating the average Twitter user has 208 followers, but a recent and thorough analysis revealed that active Twitter accounts (those that have posted in the last 30 days) have a median of just 61 followers. Moreover, since many folks created new Twitter accounts just to enter, it is safe to assume the typical account tweeting #EsuranceSave30 had fewer than the median. As a result, it is very difficult to square the number of hashtag uses with the number of impressions reported.

Moreover, even if we set aside questions about the accuracy of the 2.6 billion figure, it is important to understand that Esurance is playing loose by calling these "impressions" and not "potential impressions." No Twitter user can know how many of their followers see a given tweet--at any moment, most people are not signed on to Twitter and watching their tweet stream, so any single tweet is actually seen by a fraction of an account's followers. No accurate data exists as to the percent of followers that read each tweet, but I have seen estimates in the five to ten percent range. If this program had 2.6 million potential impressions (computed with the assumption every follower of every account that tweeted saw every tweet) and if just 10% of those accounts' followers actually saw the tweets, then actual impressions were closer to 260 million.

And, while we're at it, let's also point out the giant difference between reach (the number of unique people who saw the tweets) and impressions (the number of times tweets were seen by non-unqiue individuals). If the average person who saw an Esurance tweet saw three of them, then the reach of this program is one-third the impressions (actual, not potential). Considering all of the above, we can calculate the following based on hypothetical but reasonable assumptions:
  • 5.4 million hashtag uses x
  • 61 median followers x 
  • 10% of a tweeting account's followers that actually seeing the tweet /
  • 3 impressions for each unique individual who saw a tweet = 
  • Reach of 11 million uniques
Still a big number but quite a bit different from 2.6 billion, wouldn't you say?  This is the sort of analysis I would expect from mainstream media outlets like Adweek and Ad Age before they jump on the bandwagon and merely repeat the numbers they are fed by a brand.


Unknown said...

Completely agree, great post. I felt too many brands reached especially on Twitter during the Super Bowl. How many people will buy insurance from esurance as a result? There's a case that many would be turned off by the spam mentions by people trying to win.

Spoke about other ad campaigns like JC Penney clumsy mitten tweets on latest Sports Geek podcast -

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Awesome post. Finally somebody says it how it is.

Augie Ray said...

Sean, thanks for the comment. The JCPenney strategy was embarrassing. Like the fake account hacks other brands have tried, it is hard to imagine that feigning incompetence merely to collect more followers is a tactic some marketing leader approved.

And Unknown, thanks!

Jeremy said...

I'm waiting to see how many new customers they've made from the campaign. If they ever say.

I'm on the fence of the JCP Super Bowl strategy. It was cute on some level, but who cares? They have sales issues, and none of this social crap they're doing is helping with sales.

Michael E. Rubin said...

Did the VP of Marketing really walk into the CEO's office and sell this program on its ability to generate awareness? I have a very hard time believing that.

I've said it before and I will say it again: Awareness is a BS metric. What did this stunt prove? In the end, it proved nothing more than if you put a sign reading "FREE BEER," you'll get a stampede of people barreling down your door. Only in this case, it was cash instead of a cold one.

The irony of it is that I didn't learn that in Social Media Guru School. I learned it as a kid watching Looney Tunes.

Unknown said...

Amazing analysis. I agree that awareness is largely a bad metric. What metrics do you (or your readers) feel Esurance should have focused on?

Augie Ray said...

Jeremy, I do not expect Esurance will ever share the number of customers developed (and let's face it, in our omni-channel world, attribution is hardly a pinpoint accuracy.) As for JCPenney, I thought their social media strategy during the Super Bowl was desperate. It's a slowly dying brand that should be struggling to find relevant rather than settling for stunts that get meaningless impressions and fans.

Michael, I had EXACTLY the same thought and almost put that into my blog post (but I thought that talking about the individuals at Esurance made it too personal and more of an attack). Nonetheless, I had the same question--did the CMO really get pitched on a $5M awareness campaign and approve it, given (what appears to be) much more pressing brand challenges?

Your "free beer" idea has jogged my memory and that may lead to a new blog post. In the early days of my digital marketing career, I took over an online PPC campaign for an association of business product manufacturers. They had a monthly drawing for office products (shredder, pens, staplers and exciting things like that), and they were buying "free stuff" as a term. I immediately recommended they stop--it was BY FAR their most expensive term, and while it yielded traffic, it was easy to question if people searching for "free stuff" were really interested in office products. The client's answer: No, keep the term--our bosses like to see that sort of traffic. And there is your lesson in the value of "awareness." :)

Thanks for the comments, guys!

Unknown said...

First, this is an amazingly research and well thought out piece of work.

Let me be also be clear upfront, I am not a fan of untargeted sweepstakes etc. Such campaigns have led to bad practice but I want to play just a little of the devils advocate...

Should all social be about creating a conversation? Does Flo have any conversation with her 5.8 million Facebook fans - no none at all.

Are Esurance simply exploiting the buzz that can be created (good and bad)by combining multiple channels. If Esurance simply took out a SB48 ad, would they have gained more? Are SB ads even worthwhile?

Asking people to take an action in response to seeing an ad is not a terrible idea, it is taking a play from direct mail. Is it social, not at all, it is straight advertising but with a little twist and getting to see what people are saying and not all will be positive.

As for published metrics, we all know these are garbage but it is how ad firms operate, it is how they survive and justify ads. How many people actually watch any ads despite the "viewership" numbers presented.

What does Esurance gain? Hard to tell, depends on their goals but same question for GoDaddy or even Bud with their ads on SB48.

I would suggest they are looking to be seen as an edgy insurer and that might suit Allstate (parent).

Differentiating the brand from the parent might be fine. Their ads say little about the brand, just that they do things online.

Augie Ray said...


That's a great question, but it's a really tough question to answer from the outside. I found enough third-party data to suggest awareness was a pretty lousy goal for Esurance (although as Michael said, I generally find "awareness" a lousy goal for most brands.)

The metrics that matter are the ones that matter most to the brand. For example, I suggested that the brand has a perception problem based on the Millward Brown research. If that is, in fact, a goal for Esurance, than I'd measure for change in attitudes and perceptions, not impressions and awareness.

More generally, after years of work in social media, I am increasingly having doubts that social media aligns to marketing goals. Most marketers need scale--impressions, reach, leads, traffic, sales--but earned media doesn't work well with scale. (As Esurance proves, the broader the reach the thinner and weaker the brand impression.) I've been suggesting that marketers get out of social media and leave it to others in the organization--product managers who can use social for cocreation; PR who can build influencer strategies and relationships; customer care who can service the actual needs and respond to consumers on a one-to-one basis.

I'm not suggesting marketers exit completely, but I do think they should significantly reverse their thinking (and this thought is captured in my last sentence before the postscript). Rather than assume that social media IS a marketing channel, assume it is NOT, and then challenge yourself to come up with a plan that overcomes that barrier. Too many marketers have gotten lazy in social media, dumping worthless content into a diminishing pool of eyeballs. I think if marketers start with the assumption no one cares and consumers are not paying attention (rather than the idiotic assumption of "look at how many followers and fans I have, all dying to interact with our marketing content"), that is where good social media marketing begins.

Augie Ray said...


I don't have time this morning to give your thoughtful comment a thorough consideration response. (Darn job getting in the way!) But I want to thank you for taking the time to consider and challenge. I appreciate that you do!

Unknown said...


The best argument against what I said is the answer you gave to Kathie. "I've been suggesting that marketers get out of social media and leave it to others in the organization". I don't disagree with that statement, but its not going to happen. And while marketers are there, they need, again quoting you "scale--impressions, reach, leads, traffic, sales".

The result, we all get bored of brand messages on social.

Terence Coughlin said...

"I think if marketers start with the assumption no one cares and consumers are not paying attention (rather than the idiotic assumption of "look at how many followers and fans I have, all dying to interact with our marketing content"), that is where good social media marketing begins."

Original piece earned an A grade...with this additional commentary it gets an A+. Outstanding work, and would love to see a post-postmortem someday.

Scott Monty said...

Augie, thank you for posting this very thought-provoking piece. It's certainly a reminder not to take at face value what's presented to us. I've gotten equally as much out of the comments as well as the original piece itself - you should be commended at having such a smart readership and the ability to engage with them on an intellectual level.

I wonder though, before we throw awareness under the metrics bus, if there is a place for it? After all, while it may not do much for the brand, one could argue that awareness is an essential measure of a new product roll-out, for example.

And when you write of marketing needed to perhaps give up social media, as earned media doesn't fit with its goals (with which I agree, btw), that would indicate that social would wind up back in communications. And communications/public relations is where awareness is part of the measure. Does this seem to square to you, or do we need to hold communications to account for better metrics? Or something else entirely?

Unknown said...

Thank you for this provoking post. As a beginner in marketing, I learned a lot from this. But I don't understand what you said that rather than assume that social media IS a marketing channel, assume it is NOT, and then challenge yourself to come up with a plan that overcomes that barrier. Would you mind explaining more about it? Thank you so much.

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for joining the conversation--and with such terrific thoughts and challenges.

I agree awareness has a place under certain circumstances (and I mentioned product launches as one of those circumstances in my blog post.) I just think that awareness is too often a goal for marketers who don't consider if and how to move the consumer deeper into the funnel. The operative thing about awareness is not merely to create it any way possible but to align it in two ways: 1) To the brand need, and 2) To a strategy and channel that furnish the depth and breadth that lead consumers from awareness to engagement to consideration to trial.

Every brand journey starts with awareness--it's essential, I agree. But you and I can't take awareness to the bank; it MUST lead to something more or else the brand fails. Too often, I see bloggers and journalists promoting weak programs by focusing on impressions and awareness without exploring whether a justifiable and sensible path exists from awareness created to something deeper.

In this case, I don't see evidence Esurance needed awareness (although I've heard Esurance may respond to the criticism, and I suspect they'll make the case for why they aimed for awareness.) And as for the second point, the breadth and depth of the awareness both strategically (hashtag sweeps entries) and channel (Twitter) for this program are weak. Will anyone who sees #esurancesave30 be motivated to check out the company's products, will they recall the brand and what associations will they have? And will a new follower that Esurance collected from sweeps registrants be inclined to pay attention (or even to see) tweets from the brand?

BTW, I admit I will always challenge awareness as a goal, but sometimes when I challenge it, the business outcome is revealed. Oftentimes it is not. I think if we all challenged "awareness" more we might just find the awareness that matters more often.

Your second question--about social ending up back in communications--is an interesting one (and perhaps more deserving of a blog post on its own.) In my experience, Communications Departments worry more about reputation than reach and more about relationships than impressions. While awareness is a measure used in Corp Comm, you don't see that department using paid media to achieve it overnight (as marketing tends to attempt); instead, Communications professionals focus on earned media, slow growth and steady improvement. Corp Comm pros won't fake an account hack, act like they are posting drunk (or with mittens on), and won't run meaningless hashtag campaigns. I'd suggest the goals of Communications (Awareness, yes, but also reputation) tend to match earned media better than the goals of marketing (sales and acquisition).

All that being said, I think social belongs throughout the organization, an increasingly I believe social is BETTER aligned to the goals of departments other than marketing. In the end, the winner in each vertical won't be the company that buys the most fans with freebies or has the funniest viral video. The winner will be the brand that provides the greatest functionality and value through the channel and also furnishes the product and service experiences that get people talking to each other.

Thanks for the dialog, Scott, and I certainly welcome any criticisms or feedback on my response.

Augie Ray said...


Your question is a very thoughtful one. Thanks for asking it.

I think we have reached a point where too many marketers have assumed (too often without evidence) that earned social media is a good marketing channel. As a result, they don't question their assumptions that underlay their social media marketing strategies.

If you assume that people really love to see branded content in social networks, you simply focus on producing more content. If, however, you assume people more often than not avoid branded content in social networks (as they do in every channel), then you are forced to consider the efficacy and strategy behind content.

If you assume that every impression creates brand value, then you try to produce the funniest, edgiest content because that's what earns eyes. If, however, you question the linkage between seeing a viral video and improving brand perception, you are forced to think more deeply about the content produced. (For example, KMart had one of the most successful viral videos last year--yet it has continues to lose revenue and market share. What if funny viral videos don't actually drive brand consideration? And if the don't, why do them?)

The point isn't necessarily that marketers should abandon the channel (although some may choose to do so) but to challenge every assumption. If earned media engagement is dwindling (and it is) and if consumers avoid brand content in social channels like they do in other channels (and they tend to) and if some social engagements are far more valuable than others (and they are)... what is your social media marketing strategies? If you challenge every assumption, social media marketing gets a lot harder, and a lot more effective!

Unknown said...
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Unknown said...

Could be a stupid question but in what concrete way was the Old Spice move any better? Clearly better content but did it move the needle in a long-term way for their bottom line? Anyone know?

nate said...

Hi Augie — while earlier in my career I might have leaned this way, I do think that amassing followers is a key component of any social media strategy. My wife runs a small business and uses social media for marketing. She has often used giveaways as a way to attract more followers. As her followers have scaled up, so has engagement with her business. You can't reach someone who isn't listening to you.

However, I do agree with you that one can't look at an X,000% increase in followers as a victory in itself. Esurance is now tasked with retaining those followers and converting them into customers by appearing in their feeds with content that helps build affinity. In a way, grading the success of this campaign the day after by looking at the follower counts is like grading an NFL team's draft the day after. There is still a lot of development to come.

Augie Ray said...


I won't know the number off the top of my head (and don't have time to search for it now) but Old Spice did move the needle and increased sales and market share for the brand. For this reason, it is an excellent program to compare to Esurance. If the two are alike, then Esurance may benefit; if not, then questions should be asked.

In my opinion, while there are similarities (TV ad sparking online engagement), there are more differences. It comes down, once again, to breath and depth. Old Spice's interactions were memorable--people actually interacted with the Old Spice man, as opposed to merely a hashtag tweet. There was actual interaction between the brand and the consumer--not just sweeps entries. People saw content they wanted to share. And, most importantly, the Old Spice interactions were focused on the brand proposition--people were talking not about a sweepstakes but about the product and brand message. In addition, Old Spice changed their packaging--they didn't just try to appear hip on TV and in social media but also welcomed consumers with packaging that said, "We are not your father's deodorant." (I think it's also important to point out that the buying decision is a whole lot different for a CPG item that costs $1.79 than for the onerous insurance application process.)

I'm glad you asked and it gives me an opportunity to share something that is vital in this discussion (at least for me): I acknowledge that there are some GREAT examples of social media marketing, but I think many MANY more brands simply fail at it. And the success we do see is tough to replicate--Old Spice tried to return to the well of social but with much smaller outcomes. Dove Real Beauty is another great example of social media marketing that worked, but with each new video they produce, the brand gets fewer views and raises more questions along the lines of, "Isn't this product from the same company that produces Axe--how deep is their commitment to this message, really?"

The brands that succeed don't resort to cheap freebies and sweeps, they don't fake account hacks or tweet while wearing their mittens and they don't churn out jokey viral videos. The ones we've seen that succeed time and again are the ones that focus on purpose (Secret "Let Her Jump," Dove Real Beauty, USAA), functionality (Amex, Starbucks) or product experience (Ford Fiesta, Blendtec "Will It Blend.")

What do you think? Do you see the differences that I see between a successful program such as Old Spice and the Super Bowl effort from Esurance?

Augie Ray said...


Thanks for the comment.

The way earned media works is changing. This is most obviously the case on Facebook, where engagement is dropping as Facebook makes room for more paid media. In fact, Facebook is telling marketers that they can expect less organic engagement as the year progresses. As for Twitter, I don't think a follow means anyone is "listening." Engagement is dropping on Twitter because people simple cannot or do not want to follow, pay attention to and engage with marketing in the channel. As noted in the blog post, when I say that fans and followers are not prospects, I'm not stating a philosophical opinion but looking at the very real outcomes from many large organizations that have amassed large fan and follower counts and have not succeeded.

All that being said, I think that the scale of social allows small businesses to use it in ways large companies cannot. People will want to pay more attention to a small business they love than an insurance company that ran a sweepstakes. Different brands of different scale with different audiences in different verticals have very different opportunities in social media. It sounds like your wife should keep up what she is doing, but be cautious applying that experience to brands with vastly different scale, value propositions and audience.

Scott Ayres said...

While I think there is some validity and value in getting this type of exposure (heck we're still talking about them and their commercial 10 days after the game right!? Who else are we still talking about? no one) I do question if these new followers you get from a campaign like this are targeted enough to make it worth while.

Contests on social media are great, but when most people are following you only to get a freebie they soon fall off..

Augie Ray said...

Scott, I agree with most of your sentiment, but we marketers have to stop talking about marketing and acting as if we're the whole world. "We're still talking about them and their commercial 10 days after the game right!?"

Who's talking about it? Are your parents? Your nieces and nephews? Your friends outside of the marketing business? Is anyone talking about the brand, really, or are we debating the value of this program within the marketing industry? While we work in a particular insular and self-congratulatory industry, that still doesn't make this program a PR success.

Here's what people are saying on Twitter right now:

@King_Sullivan: Yo @esurance. It's nothing personal, but unless you're still giving away money, I think I'm going go ahead and not follow you anymore.

@84JSIlverado: Do the voices of the women arguing on the esurance commercial aggrivate anyone else?

@Andyberg23: So I take it no one who retweeted and followed esurance won that money....

@PatRonK0V: So did anyone end up winning that $1.5 from Esurance or was that just a scam?

@elainej561: maybe rather than wait another 10 min to try again with @esurance I'll try someone who won't hang up on a customer who's been waiting

@XtopherBell: Did esurance ever pay up?

@TrevKnapp: Fuck you Esurance, now that the contest is over, you ain't shit. The winner ain't shit. That money ain't shit.

@Absird: Like I'm really gonna follow Esurance after they didn't give me the 1.5 mil

@shellen: Guys, you don't have to follow @esurance anymore.

@JcBragg: Unfollowed @esurance I imagine they've lost about 200k followers after the fact.

@_Bring_Balance_ : Time to unfollow @esurance haha

Those are 50% of the tweets in the past hour as of this moment. That's some quality buzz right there!

BTW, Esurance has now lost 64,000 of the 250,000 fans they gained and the brand is still dropping:

Unknown said...

@Augie - yes you clearly make compelling points comparing the 2 - it's funny because i try and ask people as often as i can on the deodorant stuff, and although they all love and remember the Old Spice bits, they never switch brands. So much more interesting to me would be "what does it take to get people to convert to another brand?" - and in the Old Spice case I don't see amusement leading to brand switch. And I would imagine they're looking to increase market share.
In any case, as you know, I've always agreed with your view on marketing in general - my beef about it is trying to convert people right off the bat when in fact modern marketing should be about relationships - and those take time and trust! It's like dating. It takes many small points of "kindness/tenderness" before a marriage - you can't just rush these things (even in Vegas ).
But marketing in the US is much more focused on quick wins -- for all the social talk out there, it's still driven by quarterly results too often and that just kills the whole endeavor. Pointillism is where it's at -- not quick flips.
Just my dime :)

Augie Ray said...


While I agree with you about the need to focus on relationships and not (necessarily) sales, acquisitions or conversions, my wealth of experience tells me this: VERY few CMOs are interested in investing in relationships. VERY few are willing to walk into the CFOs or CEOs office and talk about how their marketing investment resulted in stronger relationships or brand impression changes. For better or worse (definitely worse!), marketing has been turned into the demand generation department, and the top two metrics are ALWAYS (at least in my experience) acquisition (leads, inbound traffic, etc.) or sales (conversions, dollars, etc.)

I've recently gotten into four discussions/arguments with people about my views on the declining nature of social media marketing, and all four ended the same way (which is a fact that I find both humorous and ironic): The other person says that relationships are important; I agree, but I ask them to define what the top priority and metric is for marketing; they concur it is sales or acquisition; and we end up agreeing that marketers SHOULD care about relationships and reputation, but by and large they simply DON'T.

Rather than keep hoping for marketers to redefine their objectives and metrics to longer-term metrics in a world defined by quarterly results, I think the time has come to acknowledge the reality of marketer goals, recognize that earned media cannot provide the scale or efficiency needed for those goals, and take a serious assessment of Marketing's role in earned social media.

Unknown said...

You are - unfortunately - correct Sir...

Augie Ray said...

By way of an update to my blog post, I thought I would offer the following observations:

First, the brand started with 11,000 followers, added 260,000 in the course of three days; and in the 10 days since has lost close to 100,000 of those fans. Why would someone motivated to follow a brand merely for a sweepstakes remain interested in the brand? Even if the brand retains 100,000 of the fans, I'd suggest this follower trend demonstrates how meaningless the awareness and followers developed. (Trivia: Esurance has now lost a follow, on average, every 9 seconds 24/7 in the past 10 days.)

Secondly, this week Esurance had a twetchat. It appeared engagement was good, but then I noticed Esurance repeated the same mistake--they offered a prize for participation. Sure enough, if you look at the top accounts "participating," you'll find Twitter profiles with almost no followers but with thousands (in fact tends of thousands) of inane tweets, almost all involving hashtag contests, sweeps and the like. All the brand has done is collect sweepstakes fans, not insurance prospects.

In the end, I am sure they'll get a few hundred new customers from this, but for a program than cost $5 million, that is a HUGE waste of money and time.