Looking at WPP's Brand Z list, it seems that the only brands that do well out of social media are the ones that facilitate it; less so the brands that try to use it as a means of promoting their wares
Conrad Wiacek
Conrad Wiacek is the newly-appointed head of Sportcal Sponsorship. Before this he spent two years working at Kantar Media where he specialised in measuring the impact and value of commercial programmes in sport.
Is there real value in social media?
29th September 2017, 10:17

At a seminar I attended a few weeks back, a social media company conducted a little experiment with those of us in the room. Having been instructed to stand, we were all asked a series of questions, with those answering in the negative being requested to sit down. Before the last question, around three-quarters of those in the room were still standing. After the last question, no one was left standing.

The question that felled the room? How many of you remember the last five Facebook posts you saw?

Taking that question a bit wider, how many pieces of content can you recall from ANY of your social media platforms? I will cautiously predict that it won’t be many. So why has the sports industry in particular assumed that social media have such huge relevance and importance when there is no proof of their impact? The need to collect impressions might provide you with a nice number to present back as ROI, but is there value in tracking this? 


Why has the sports industry in particular assumed that social media have such huge relevance and importance when there is no proof of their impact?  

Much is made of the desire to reach the elusive ‘millennial’ – those shadowy, moody teenagers or twenty-somethings who only communicate through the medium of the shiny screen in front of them. This 'phenomenon' has led to the seemingly unstoppable rise of eSports, but we are now all part of a digital generation. The prevailing feeling is that unless you are talking to your potential customers through digital channels, namely social media, you won’t reach them at all, and your business will suffer as a result. We are told by experts in social media, like the guys at Social Chain, that you must have a social presence and without it, you are missing a huge opportunity to communicate with your audience in an authentic way. 

I see two issues here: firstly, the idea that you are communicating; and secondly, that you have an audience. 

The issue with social media campaigns is that they can be ignored just as easily as they are created. With Facebook auto-playing videos, the average length of time an individual will watch is four seconds. The drop-off rate after that is staggering, suggesting that unless you embed your message right at the start, most people won’t see it. This rather subverts the traditional advertising model - instead of building to a pay-off like your standard advertising formats, you now have to bludgeon people’s attention to get noticed. 

Given the amount of information we are bombarded with on any given day, society has become adept at filtering this torrent. Therefore, we tend to only focus on content that appeals to us. Isn’t this just a case of preaching to the converted? How do you take your message outside of those who are already receptive to it, to those who will drive new sales of your product? You need someone who that person values to point out the benefits of the product. This is not a new way of reaching a consumer, it is advertising 101. The only things to have changed are the medium and the attention span. 

However, let’s say that your content team has nailed it and your campaign is witty, engaging and memorable. How do you reach a significant audience to make that campaign worthwhile?

If you look at the way your digital audience is built and tracked, clear problems can be identified. Firstly, you need influencers i.e. those with the biggest reach, to promote your content. This is no different from any other form of advertising. Much like TV, the programmes and channels with the biggest audiences can charge more for advertising space as they are reaching the biggest audience. By connecting with these influencers, you can reach their followers as well as your own.

However, the question is, are these people paying any attention to what you are saying? Would someone walking past a house be counted as being influenced by the advert playing on the TV in that living room? Of course not - you can’t guarantee that this person has even seen the advert, let alone whether they have paid any attention to it.  


When it comes to sponsorship, and specifically sport sponsorship, trying to generate attention for a brand when your audience is not listening is nigh-on impossible  

When it comes to sponsorship, and specifically sport sponsorship, trying to generate attention for a brand when your audience is not listening is nigh-on impossible. For example, according to Nielsen Sports the last El Clasico league game, the Real Madrid-Barcelona derby, played in April 2017, generated over $40 million of ‘value’ from new media, yet this seems to merely be attributing an arbitrary number against the number of potential eyeballs, which is hardly a scientific method for proving ROI. 

Attributing and proving ROI is something the sponsorship industry has long struggled with in terms of sporting partnerships. While it must be appealing for the industry to be able to show off the huge numbers of people who might see your content, the primary focus will not be the brand you’re trying to promote but the actual sport itself.

Looking at the WPP Brand Z 2017 list of top global brands, the top 10 global brands listed are those you might expect, with the likes of Google, Facebook and Amazon sitting in there with AT & T, Tencent and Visa - all very large, powerful brands which are firmly part of the digital age. However, the two brands that stand out sit at numbers 10 and 12, namely McDonald’s and Marlboro. 


McDonald’s social media presence is huge - one of the company’s Twitter accounts (of which there are many) has over 3.5 million followers - yet across every post (of which there are over 388,000) only 3,418 have been liked  

McDonald’s social media presence is huge - one of the company’s Twitter accounts (of which there are many) has over 3.5 million followers - yet across every post (of which there are over 388,000) only 3,418 have been liked. Not much engagement there. Marlboro does not even have a social media account, yet the value of these two brands alone is close to $200 billion according to WPP. In Marlboro’s case, the brand's parent company, Philip Morris International, does have a social media presence, but that presence does not extend to promoting cigarettes.

These two brands are hardly paradigms of health and well-being and have been legislated against fairly consistently, yet are still two of the most valuable brands in the world. Looking at the Brand Z list, it seems that the only brands that do well out of social media are the ones that facilitate it; less so the brands that try to use it as a means of promoting their wares.  

The strength of the McDonald’s and Marlboro brands come from their iconography, namely the Golden Arches and the Marlboro cowboy. Both brands have historically sponsored huge sporting properties such as the Olympics, the World Cup and iconic F1 teams such as Ferrari and McLaren. The result of this is that the two brands have become familiar to the wider public, which in turn translates to products sold.

However much marketers like to credit themselves with successful campaigns, when it comes to sports sponsorship it is the association with greatness that is the ultimate driver of a successful partnership. How brands communicate that association matters, but without that association, no matter how many eyeballs you may reach, you still can’t make people care.

Sportcal