With Bluefin Labs, Publicis' SMG Looks Beyond TV Ratings

Sure, They Watched Your Ads. But Are They Tweeting About Them?

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Advertisers have long based TV-buying decisions on who's watching. Starcom Mediavest Group is adding another wrinkle: targeting shows based on what those TV viewers are talking about in social media.

The Publicis-owned media network is adopting social listening technology from startup Bluefin Labs and will begin offering it to clients, which include Coca-Cola, Kraft Foods, P&G and Samsung. Bluefin, founded in 2008 and built on technology developed at MIT, listens to social media and connects conversation to specific TV shows, and soon, the ads themselves.

Xfactor in social media
Xfactor in social media

SMG, which spends close to $1 billion on behalf of clients each year, plans to use the technology throughout its US operations to understand what shows and ads resonate with consumers beyond Nielsen ratings ; specifically, what kinds of conversations are being started and what those conversations are about. The findings could significantly shift how much brands are willing to pay for a presence in shows, beyond what they know from Nielsen ratings .

"What Bluefin allows [our clients] to do is see who is talking and what they are talking about in near real-time so we can start to respond to those consumers with different marketing stimuli," said Kate Sirkin, EVP of global research at SMG.

SMG plans to the use the technology in two ways that could alter the way brands measure the effectiveness of the millions spent on branding through TV. First, it will help brands locate TV shows that are resonating with their target audience, as judged by the conversation generated by the programming. Second, SMG is going to help Bluefin extend that capability to the ads themselves. Did they generate conversation? Was it passionate? Positive? Negative?

"If a brand is spending $100 million in TV every year, it's not enough to understand how many eyeballs. You need to quantify how much social conversation the campaign generated," said Bluefin VP Tom Thai. Other agencies including WPP's Mediacom and IPG's Initiative have used Bluefin data, but SMG is "baking it into their internal platform."

One of the first big tests of the technology will come during the Super Bowl in February, when SMG clients will be looking to see how their massive investments in ad time and creative impact the largest single-TV audience of the year. "The social data will help us understand if the environment is truly worth it," Ms. Sirkin said.

As part of the year-long licensing deal, SMG will help Bluefin apply its technology to ads, a significant technical hurdle they've been tackling for the past year. "It's a lot harder than doing it for TV shows," said Mr. Thai. "It takes a lot of computation to get it right. We made a significant investment from our side in the engineering, and we're working with SMG to push this out."

Measures of TV ad effectiveness is an inexact science usually based on surveys of a limited group. Ms. Sirkin sees Bluefin technology as a "massive, real-time copy test . Much bigger than anything anyone could afford through traditional copy testing."

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