Measuring Online Success: Oreo Still Wins the Super Bowl

I just got through reading Mark Ritson’s piece on how “Oreo didn’t win the Super Bowl” with their tremendous and quick thinking Tweet about dunking in the dark. Ritson blames all of the praise that has been heaped on this campaign on “lazy journalists and social media pundits” but in so doing highlights issues with measurement of social media and indeed with the out of date view of many traditional brands and media folks on how to measure the impact of online media.

Ritson Tweet

The thing that came across most clearly seems to be Ritson’s (and many other more traditional ATL marketers) unwillingness to look at how social media works and how it should be measured in spite of his view social media “sometimes” has it’s place in a communications strategy for a brand.

Flawed Analysis

The biggest issue is not with the claims that Ritson makes but in his analysis of the impact that such activity had. This analysis highlights the reason that social media actually probably doesn’t take up more of most major brands’ budgets rather than less. For one reason or another it seems that many that work in online disciplines have a hard time of qualifying the value they add and it leaves room for many a cynical view.

Given Ritson’s desire to measure only the activity generated on the platform (i.e. the “150,000” Twitter users he calculates saw the Oreo tweet) whilst giving a slight nod to the interactivity and engagement metrics through favorites and retweets he is missing out on two major points that should be considered in his analysis:

1. How far did the advertisement spread?

This is social media after all. One of the major benefits of content shared through this medium is that it is shared amongst friends and family and can spread organically. Whilst Ritson limits his analysis to that spread within Twitter he does not look at how far this branded messaging actually spread – it was passed on through Facebook and other social media channels such as Reddit where it made the front page (and the linked imgur image has 895,000 views), and so forth. Let’s also not forget the “lazy journalists” that covered the story from Forbes and other authoritative sources that covered their quick thinking – oh look this Buzzfeed article also has 389,000 views.

The point is, the content reached a much larger audience than the BRW piece gives credit. It may not have reached the numbers that a Super Bowl TV advertisement did but it sure as heck reached more than 150,000.

2. What is the ROI on the activity versus other channels?

If you want to measure social media and the impact it has for the sake of comparing that to TV then you need to be willing to use some softer branding metrics akin to reach or TVR’s to put a value against it.

The big issue is that few who work in social media (or any other online advertising discipline) would dare rely on branding metrics only and in fact are likely too shy (or perhaps too lazy or modest) to try and capture reach across multiple channels online. The issue is not, as Ritson raises, that “marketers who are too naïve or too nervous to question something that garners such widespread media support” it’s in fact that marketers are less well equipped to measure this impact, yet are held to a much greater level of accountability for their impact.

There is an expectation from clients and others that “because it is digital it can be measured in the most granular of ways” – when perhaps it’s better to compare it more directly to other channels for the assessment of value.

So, if we were to throw a few other metrics into his assessment on the return we should be looking at:

  • Reach – a rough and dirty eyeballs metric similar to TVRs – as it’s not all paid-for reach generated you’re going to need to look beyond net promoter score and do a bit of digging yourself to see who else has picked up on the story and on what other platforms it has been shared
  • Value of coverage – looking at where the story was covered (i.e. Forbes, Wall Street Journal, etc.) how much would a similar amount of space be worth in terms of advertising spend? Are there any links back to the site? If so what are these worth to the brand given their source? The fact is, both he and I are still talking about the Tweet (and not a single other Super Bowl ad) so it’s got to have meant something to us.
  • Cost – Ritson fails to point out that for the time that those few quick thinking marketers spent on this activity it wouldn’t have cost Oreo more than a few thousand dollars in man hours (assumed based upon 5 hours of overtime for a small handful of agency staff, all Oreo staff will likely have been on salary) and additionally they may have paid to promote the tweet (I’m not sure about this) so that would have set them back another good few thousand, but even so as opposed to the $3.8m the 30 second TV spot set them back I’m guessing Oreo got a higher ROI on the Twitter activity
  • Incremental audience – finally there is a huge missed point in the argument here: the Oreo Twitter antics spread globally and reached an audience that simply could not have been reached through TV alone. Guess how many Super Bowl ads I watched here in the UK? Zero. Nil. Zilch. Guess how many different places I read about Oreo’s Tweet? A lot.


The point here is that more should be done to investigate the right way to measure online channels and how we get better at comparing them to traditional media. If I had more time – and if it were my campaign or budget to defend – I’d go into more depth.

Rather than focus on a (massively oversimplified) view on how social media is ‘overrated’, perhaps it’s time we look at how we measure activity through digital channels, get a bit smarter and start asking for the budget these channels actually deserve – whether that be more or less than they currently receive. I suspect it will be more in a lot of cases.


  1. Sam, you could not be more correct

    One of the key issues I have when discussing digital with traditional media types is the question of analysis. If anything its a flawed argument. Just because we can track a lot of data down to a user level doesn’t mean we can track everything. Sentiment for example. What we as people promoting digital need to do is communicate better with our cousins in the atl world and start being more confident to use some metrics which are not just based on tracking fact but are intimations of trend.

  2. Totally agree Russell and thanks for the comment. I guess I should have also mentioned in my post that another big issue (more pronounced with social than other forms of online media) is that too many brands and marketers look at all online spend as DR budget – how many additional sales/likes/follows did I get from this activity?

    In reality some of the budget (and certainly for social) should be coming from a brand budget and should use brand metrics to measure it. However, until there is a better documented and accepted way to measure this online (without it being immediately branded as “fluff”) it’s a bit of a lose-lose battle I’m afraid.

    The tools for measurement will (hopefully) come – and when they do I suspect a lot of people that may sit currently in the camp highlighted by Ritson will start to see budgets shifting.

  3. Points to be made here too.

    “Ah, but you might point out that TV advertising is a cluttered and ineffective medium. That’s certainly true – a typical game-day viewer would have been swamped with more than 60 different ads during the four-hour marathon event. But compare that to Twitter where 24 million tweets were sent by Americans during the game. Which medium has the most clutter?”

    – No single user sees all 24million tweets as you select what you see Vs. TV, where you get what you are given
    – The frequency of the tweets seen by users over one-off commercials.

  4. Great analysis, Sam – super insightful. A lot of companies seem to be throwing mud at wall in terms of social media because it is tough to measure – unlike offline media. It’s going to be interesting to watch how stats and analysis change over the next few years as more advertising discovers the digital age.

  5. I’ve just come across another piece that was written for Marketing Week that I do feel much better gets across Mark’s view:

    I can definitely say that I agree with the message that he puts across there with respect to focussing on the right tool for the job (and the right client) much more so than the view that came across in the BRW piece.

    I would still caveat, however, that it feels to me like the main point is that folks working in online haven’t taken the time to understand how to measure the activity in terms that make sense to other marketers and brand directors to better evaluate the impact of their efforts and often their channel will appear less valuable (rather than more so) because they are measuring solely based on engagement and acquisition (either sales or new followers) rather than reach and more traditional brand sentiment metrics.


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