Surf Excel ad: Mileage may vary, but brands will measure social engagement not tut-tutting of trolls

New York: It doesn’t matter what we 'think' about the Surf Excel ad. What matters immensely to the brand is how much we’re obsessing over it and for how long. The fundamental disconnect between garden variety opinion and how brands measure earned media is playing out in real time, like it has in so many other moments. In recent months, the Nike ad featuring Colin Kaepernick, and the Gillette ad riffing on the #MeToo movement have all applied the same tactic (or you could call it strategy, if you prefer) of inserting themselves into a cultural moment and then measuring the social touchpoints while earned media exploded around the bonfire they started.

Earned media is any kind of content, including text, video, memes that are added to the original piece of content which is the owned media - in this case, the Surf Excel ad.

 Surf Excel ad: Mileage may vary, but brands will measure social engagement not tut-tutting of trolls

Screengrab from the latest Surf Excel ad

It’s incredibly hard to stand out in a crowded market. The research company Gartner estimates that 50 percent of organisations that use social media fail to demonstrate any business impact. Brands that have been able to buck the trend have almost always chosen to play mediator between two opposing world views. It’s how the Marlboro Man became a cultural icon in the United States and to a lesser extent, on an everyday level, it’s how brands do multi-variant testing on social media before they launch a major campaign. Belching out he-said, she-said kinds of opinion on this is low-hanging fruit, the challenge for brands is to nurture love at the intersect of owned and earned media.

Whether it’s Surf Excel or Gillette or Nike, the prize is not the whataboutery, it’s how the outpouring itself is driving organic search for a brand which would normally lean in on paid search to drive online traffic. World-class brands are all embracing earned media investments not (only) to sell but to build trust, improve customer service, collaborate with users on new product variants. Nivea, for instance, created its most successful launch ever — Nivea Invisible for Black & White — based entirely on social media users’ feedback.

Proactive social media teams can squeeze the most out of unplanned opportunities, like in the case of the recent #GilletteAd gone viral or Surf Excel. 
These ads are less about the brand than about feeding into the zeitgeist. Gillette, at an obvious level, is in the business of making razors. Surf Excel sells detergent. With its latest ad, though, it wills the world’s largest focus group — social media — to show the world where it stands at an epochal time for the subcultures that feed into a larger society’s culture.

Here at at least four ways the Surf Excel ad has already won out on the bread and butter strategy of digital analytics, no matter what the exact return on investment specifications of the media planners are:
- Dominate Rank 0 in addition to Rank 1 and 2 on organic search.
- ‘Newsjack’ the day’s Page One headlines.
- Drive authoritative backlinks for the brand.
- Create the underlying traffic surge now that can turbocharge paid ads at a later date.

Douglas Holt wrote in his bestseller Cultural Strategy about how retail brands prosper from the art of well timed cultural expression. “When people find symbolic and social value in a brand’s cultural expression they tend to perceive that the brand provides better functionality, is higher quality, and is more trustworthy. Companies are trusted. Functional benefits are social constructs, not objective facts as assumed by economists and engineers.”

So, what does the term negative publicity mean for brands who provoke a firestorm of reactions? Well, opinions are cheap, measuring the patchwork quilt of these opinions across platforms is a far harder and more rewarding too. Brands that take measurement seriously grade comments, posts, reviews and any property that customers add to owned media (the ad, in this case) on a curve. Brand advocates’ posts matter, trolls not so much.

Time and again, we have seen how a brands’ most loyal customers have been the first to rise up when a brand they love get enmeshed in controversy. Creating that brand love is a passive task. Starbucks, Spotify, nearly every big shop has to deal with bad press. Brands that keep an “active positive” voice win the day when every interaction with the brand has become a real time marketing event.

What an armchair critic calls negative publicity could actually turn out to be valuable first party data for brands which place enormous value on non-anonymous  personally identifiable information (PII) such as email IDs, social handles and so on, which gives them a terrific view of who's on the other side and the context in which they are engaging.

Bad stuff happens to brands all the time. Starbucks, an iconic American brand, got a lot of heat last year when its staff called the cops on two customers in what became labelled as a racist incident. Long ago, rumours spread that there were worms in McDonald's famous cheeseburgers. Does it hurt the brand? In the short term, yes, maybe but that's a limited view in the wider arc of what brands mean to people and the associative network of memories that we recall when we think of those brands.

Throughout history, brands' cultural expressions have spanned the wide arc of ideology, myth and cultural codes. Those who got it right have given us a compass to measure our place within society, what we should stand for and what we must despise. Today's marketing technology industry, with 5,000 plus tools, can measure that too.

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Updated Date: Mar 12, 2019 23:55:17 IST