World Cup Marketing: Brands try to score in a digital world

Measuring the real effect that a brand’s online content has on consumer awareness and buying habits is a key concern for any company. Technology has put a significant amount of data at brands’ fingertips, creating the question of how to measure and interpret it — often in real-time. As the World Cup kicks off in Brazil, promising to bring a bevy of advertising campaigns with it, Eric Solomon, head of strategy and insight for Google, and Gopi Kallayil, the company’s chief evangelist for brand marketing, discuss how the search giant and several brands are tackling this “challenging” but “incredibly exciting” problem. 

The streets of Sao Paulo, Brazil erupted this week when the world’s attention turned to the insanity of World Cup soccer. With an estimated 3.2 billion viewers tuned in, even U.S. eyeballs will be riveted to screens when Team USA plays its first game against Ghana on Monday. More popular than ever, soccer is now as much a platform for brand marketers as it is a global sport. The Wall Street Journal reported that Manchester United, fresh off its worst season in more than two decades, is shooting for a new sort of record — the largest sponsorship deal in soccer history. Man U is in conversations with Nike (and others) for a deal that could top $600 million. In 2013, the club had negotiated its then-largest deal of $80 million with General Motors for Chevrolet to sponsor the team, which ultimately led to the ousting of GM’s marketing chief at the time. Another GM executive was quoted as saying: “The company has no measurable evidence the deal is paying off.”

The 2014 World Cup will attract over $100 billion in brand advertising dollars from brands globally. The question we all should be asking: Is there any measurable evidence that these dollars deliver real value for the brands? This question is more critical than ever, as 90% of marketers have expressed uncertainty that their key content metrics are effective in measuring tangible business results.

For some time, digital search advertising metrics and analytical tools have brought a high degree of visibility into the numbers behind search advertising and the effectiveness of those marketing dollars. Traditionally, though, digital ads have been focused on the lower parts of the traditional funnel, like consideration or intent, so brands are able to measure precisely how advertising budgets are effective in terms of search behavior or intent to purchase. The time has come for us to offer as much measurement precision with digital brand advertising as we have with search advertising.

“The time has come for us to offer as much measurement precision with digital brand advertising as we have with search advertising.”

A Focus Group of 10 Million 

Advertising measurement has always taken a lot of time and has been limited to relatively small samples. Eight-to-10 person focus groups or surveys distributed to 3,000-5,000 people (which can take months to complete) have been the norm. Digital has changed the paradigm; it has exploded the scale, shrunk the time and provided a window into observed behavioral truths rather than self-reported answers. We are now able to gain insights from people without asking a single question. Last month, there were 100 billion searches on Google — 50 per Internet user. We watched six billion hours of video on YouTube, which is about three hours per month for each user. This represents just part of an incredibly massive database of intentions, emotions and passions related to what is really capturing attention and engaging consumers. In fact, once per year we do a fun retrospective at Google that culminates in a 90-second video called Google Zeitgeist based on top searches conducted and videos watched that year. Never before has there been so much direct transparency into humanity’s collective consciousness.

Now, the focus group is no longer limited to eight to 10 people — the focus group could be 10 million strong. We don’t have to wait for information; it’s available in minutes or hours. And you can glean insights just by observing behaviors across search, video, social media and public digital expression. We have answers to questions we never even asked.

An Ideal Scenario

Brand advertising has long had rigor around how good the creative needs to be (and some World Cup creative has been great.) We are now aiming to have that same rigor in terms of how brand advertising moves the needle. Imagine that you are a brand marketing professional and your customers called to give you this update: “I have seen your campaign in these places. This is how it moved me emotionally.  This is the action that I took as a result of how it moved me emotionally. And, by the way, this is how much I spent on your product or service since I saw your great content.” Then imagine your customers doing this within hours of your campaign launching, on a regular basis, potentially for a lifetime. This may all sound a bit fantastical, but getting to that kind of accuracy is an enormous problem to solve. We get uncomfortably excited about solving these kinds of problems at Google, and digital brand measurement is one that we’re working on furiously.

“Never before has there been so much direct transparency into humanity’s collective consciousness.”

Measuring Brand Advertising at Google 

There is not yet one silver bullet answer on how to measure digital brand advertising. But as the world of brand advertising is increasingly expanding to digital platforms including Google, we are beginning to see how the measurement mindset is changing. One thing we’ve seen is that some brands are shifting models of what they measure in response to evolving digital ad formats. Taking advantage of some of Google’s more engagement-focused formats, for example, L’Oreal Paris ran an expanded ad in Germany as part of their “Beauty Minute” campaign. Rather than focusing solely on number of views, they looked at engagement time — and we found that 30% of people who expanded the ad watched the entire 30-second embedded video.

Even more brands are tapping into Google’s Brand Lift solutions. Sunrun, a pioneer in residential solar service, developed an engaging YouTube TrueView ad to help boost brand awareness. Sunrun then leveraged Brand Lift solutions to get real-time campaign feedback and to investigate whether the ad wasworking. They saw a 101% lift in ad recall versus a control group and a 215% increase in site visits within their target geography. Oscar Mayer recently ran a campaign on YouTube and came to Google with the same question facing World Cupmarketers: How do I know whether this really works? Again, using Brand Lift solutions, we were able to show Oscar Mayer how many people who saw their ads later searched for the company on Google. Among people who saw the campaign, brand awareness increased by 19%. They also saw a 112% increase in ad recall. Critically, we were able to show Oscar Mayer these brand interest statistics in real time, allowing the brand to tweak its campaign based on who was responding most favorably to the ads. Theanalytics also provided insight into what specific times of day were best to run the campaign.

“As with traditional video advertising, digital brand advertising clearly has an impact — especially when the creative is great.”

Other brands are looking at how digital brand advertising dollars translate to perception and offline sales metrics. McDonald’s Canada, for instance, ran a popular campaign encouraging customers to ask anything they wanted aboutthe company’s food on the web. McDonald’s answered each question it got with utmost transparency, resulting in organic, seamless conversations with their customers in a new way for the brand. As a result of this effort, McDonald’s food quality perception index increased by 21%. More famously, Old Spice’s landmark “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” have redefined the boundaries of digital brand advertising. Old Spice shot videos frequently, posted them to YouTube and responded in near real-time with customers, while Dove lays claim to creating the most-viewed digital ad of all-time. These brands have seen a lift in offline sales as a result of these digital branding efforts, with Old Spice originally doubling its sales in just one month. As with traditional video advertising, digital brand advertising clearly has an impact — especially when the creative is great.

As the concept of “big data” is morphing to “gigantic data” right before our eyes, measuring a brand’s real effect on the world is ever challenging. But it’s also incredibly exciting. As we gear up for the excitement of the World Cup — and for the great ad content that accompanies it — Google also has its eye on measuring that impact. There may not be a silver bullet, but we hope more marketers gain confidence in measuring the impact of their digital brand advertising. In the extended version of the study quoted above, 60% of marketers said that they wished they could measure how people’s opinions of their brand are changing because of their content, while 54% said they wish they knew how much more likely people are to buy their products because of their content.

As soccer fans will be judging their teams by the goals they score, CEOs will be judging their marketing teams based on the demonstrated and measurable marketing goals they attain. One hundred billion digital dollars certainly warrants paying close attention to what works best and why. It demands a high degree of scrutiny and measurement. The world will be watching — and so will we.