It probably seems obvious that a brand like Estee Lauder would advertise on networks such as Bravo, E! or OWN, as they index highly for its target demographic. But you might be surprised to know that viewers tweet as frequently, and in some cases more, when ads of the beauty-products company appear on CNN and MSNBC.
It is quickly becoming an article of the marketers' faith that measured impact in social media -- largely tweets and other types of sharing -- are important signals of affinity for and engagement with a brand. Dozens of social-listening startups are generating data on viewer reactions to shows. But Bluefin Labs is moving into a higher degree of difficulty: tracking social reaction to every TV ad that runs on the 40 networks it tracks.
It is called Bluefin Signals Brand Edition, and a number of marketers, including PepsiCo and Kraft Foods, and a host of media agencies, such as MediaVest and Horizon Media, are giving it a try. Some plan to use the data to inform their upfront investments when talks begin in the coming weeks.
"We are using it to evaluate TV programs in a couple different ways. One is to understand which shows are generating conversation. The other is to start to look at how are different shows and ads in the shows drive incremental lift in brand conversations," said David Shiffman, senior VP of research at Publicis unit MediaVest.
Born from semantic technology developed by co-founders Deb Roy and Michael Fleischman at MIT Media Lab, Bluefin launched a little over a year ago fingerprinting video from 40 networks to link TV shows with what is being said about them online. Over the past year they've worked out the kinks to narrow that down from hour and half-hour shows to the ads themselves -- 15- and 30-second snippets of video.
Marketers, which had been able to identify fans of shows, can now track real-time conversations triggered by the ads.
"At a minimum you want to understand how the social web is amplifying your message," said Mr. Roy, who is also Bluefin's CEO. "Step two is to optimize and take some control over how that amplification plays out."
For advertisers, that can mean seeing what creative resonates in which show at what time. Is it conversation? If so, how does it compare with the performance of other ads during the same show or targeting the same audience? Or more basically: "Did my ad even run?"
Such chatter is increasingly informing marketers and agencies' decisions about which shows to invest in.
"If you have two [programs] with equal ratings and you can show that one has high engagement [in social media], we will choose that one hands-down, no question," said Shiv Singh, director-social at PepsiCo Beverages.
For decades, marketers have had data connecting their TV spending to store sales, but a feedback loop measured in weeks and months makes assessment a slow process. Social is a new data source they're taking seriously.
"We believe it translates into real-world impact, otherwise we wouldn't care about it," said Mr. Shiffman said. "If we do it right we can generate a social response through television." Of course, most have concluded what's obvious from your Twitter feed: A relatively small group of people are responsible for most of the chatter about TV. Bluefin's sample says it's about 25 million in the U.S.
Advertisers want to motivate them, though it's not always easy to measure impact. For example, we know that during the Super Bowl, the H&M ad with David Beckham had the most mentions in social -- 114,000 in the 45 minutes after the spot aired.
Though Clint Eastwood's spot for Chrysler had fewer social mentions (112,000) during that quarter-hour, it generated far more impressions (103 million) than H&M's ad (73 million). While both ads did phenomenally well from a social standpoint, the Chrysler ad was amplified across bigger networks -- tweeted by viewers with more twitter followers.
As TV ads are used more to drive social conversations, the reaction becomes part of the return. Pepsi, for instance, is aware that 60% of its consumers in the U.S. are using mobile devices while watching TV.
"We know that when people are excited about things they talk about it online," Mr. Singh said. "We want to know if we are resonating and if we are getting those benefits. This is becoming an integral part of what we do."
When media agencies go into this year's upfronts, they'll be armed with social data right along with ratings points and other brand-lift research. Ratings points and costs drive the discussions, but the social layer will be part of the mix and an indicator of effectiveness of the billions spent on TV this year.
It could lead to some surprises, or some marketers picking incongruous shows and perhaps even ad creative.
As Mr. Roy said: "Why shouldn't Estee Lauder advertise on MSNBC?"