Why the little guy won marketing’s biggest prize

marketing's biggest prize

By Eric Tung, {grow} Community Member

Here in America, we just concluded our biggest marketing sweepstakes, The Super Bowl, where top brands march out their glitziest and most creative advertising. It’s marketing’s biggest prize. All the big players showed up but it might have been a surprise campaign that created the biggest buzz of all. In fact, they didn’t even take out an ad during the big game.

Many people believe a creative ploy from Esurance created the biggest buzz. The company’s voiceover star, John Krasinski, of “The Office” fame, comes out in front of the camera to chat about the company (here is the link).

Here’s why Esurance won the Super Bowl:

1. Real-Time Marketing Win

Drawing a record 111.5 million viewers (Nielsen), and an average $4 million price tag for a 30-second spot, the Super Bowl is the biggest media stage you can compete on. If you’re going to be able to make a sizable splash, you either need an amazing commercial, or some great real-time newsjacking like Oreo in 2013. Esurance combined the two with a quirky, witty ad and helped steer the Super Bowl conversation towards insurance with a $1.5 million giveaway, probably the largest social media giveaway prize I’ve ever seen.

2. Messaging Win

As stated in the ad, Esurance can save customers around 30% – about the same amount the company saved by airing their commercial in the first slot after the Super Bowl. Not only did the company save 30% themselves, but they’re giving the savings back to a lucky winner. Plus, they further extend that messaging over to the hashtag, #EsuranceSave30. Brilliant combination of real-time marketing with the conversation around the price of Super Bowl ads and the savings message they want to drive home.

3. Target Market Win

The contest is a Twitter-based hashtag contest, one entry per hashtag use. This perfectly aligns with their assumed target market: younger drivers more likely to buy a web-based insurance product, and with mobile users who are more likely to both be using Twitter and buying insurance online. You can’t pick a target more appropriate for the company.

4. Trending Hashtag Win

In 2013, Twitter raised the price of a Promoted Trend to $200k per day. If we assume some amount of premium tied to sponsoring the Promoted Trend during the Super Bowl, even 10x regular pricing ($4 million for Super Bowl TV spot / $100k average for regular national TV spots = 40x premium for TV), that gives us around a $2 million possible figure for a Promoted Trend during the Super Bowl. Esurance held the top 1-2 organically trending hashtag positions for 36 hours after the game, resulting in $2-3 million “worth” of Promoted Trend time.

5. Followers Win
Taking a look at Twitterfeed.com, we can see that Esurance’s Twitter account started out the week at a modest 9,844 followers, about 25% of parent-company Allstate at 42,373. By the end of the week, Esurance’s following had increased 2736%, picking up over 250k new followers, with a total following of more than 625% of Allstate’s. Assuming normal promoted accounts on Twitter accruing followers at about $10 a follow during peak bidding times, that amounts to about $2.6 million figure for the new followers obtained.


Will Super Bowl ads always provide ROI and concrete results? No.

Their intended purpose has always been brand awareness and word-of mouth. Esurance achieved this by giving away one of the biggest social media prizes I’ve ever seen during a time when people are already talking about the high price of advertising in the medium, targeting a relevant audience and driving home their savings message. ROI in the form of organically obtaining a trending hashtag and a quarter-million followers is just an added bonus.

By the way, here’s a video of Esurance giving away the $1.5 million dollars!

I’d love to hear your comments about this integrated campaign in the comment section below!

eric t tungEric T. Tung is a social media manager and trainer at BMC Software as well as a social media strategist, blogger and speaker. The postings in this blog belong to Eric and do not necessarily represent the opinions or positions of BMC Software.


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  • Craig Lindberg

    While the cost of airtime around “the Big Game” (can I say S—r B–l or will Goodell’s MIB come knockin’?) never ceases to amaze me, I love it when somebody comes along and games the gamers; well played esurance! Akin to a Robin Hood-esque move to shift that spend to a jackpot and in the process, strike gold themselves. Score! Enjoyed the write up Eric, thanks!

  • Eric, This is really interesting, but I’m having a hard time following your numbers. Are you saying that the trend COST around $2M or delivered that level of value? Does the cost of a Twitter promoted tend increase as the number of followers increase? How are you attributing ROI?

  • Yes, good point and sorry for the confusion. I was merely saying that if TV commercials cost around 40x as much during the Super Bowl, maybe a promoted trend might cost something like 10x its regular cost. That puts it at $2M. Having their hashtag trend for nearly 36 hours, that’s gotta be worth quite a bit!

    I was merely comparing the possible paid cost of the organic piece of the campaign with what it might have cost if they outright paid for it. Not saying that they actually generated sales or revenue out of the campaign necessarily.

  • Thanks for your feedback Craig!

  • I participated in the contest. I tweeted the hashtag no less than a dozen times. I mentioned the company several times too. They never replied to me, not even thanking me and directing me to their website. Yet they replied to thousands.

    But my frustration is the winner was to be drawn randomly. Logic indicates the more times you tweet the hashtag increases the odds of your win. That’s how it works in the lottery and that’s how I thought it would work in this contest. Alas, no. The winner is someone who tweeted the hashtag once.

    Because of several factors, namely the win last night, the number of followers dropped off significantly. People followed the brand because the rules stated that; they knew the company needed to direct message them if they were the winner. Once the winner was announced, they (and I) unfollowed. What does that say about the entire relationship?

  • Michael Bian

    Great article..thank you for sharing this one..

  • Pingback: Why the little guy won marketing's biggest priz...()

  • Yes Ari- the long-term effectiveness in customer acquisition will be cloudy at best, but that wasn’t the purpose. The purpose was to generate buzz, create brand awareness and target a group of consumers most likely to be underserved by insurance products and more likely to be socially active. I think they achieved that goal.

    As for the followers, you’re right, they have dropped off by about 30k, but that’s still a net benefit in the 220k range!

  • Thanks for your feedback Michael!

  • augieray

    I completely disagree with this blog post. Buying fans with giveaways and sweepstakes is something we have seen other brands do (but they never repeat it because it’s useless.) With this program, Esurance did not buy prospects, or fans, or customers, or anything close to a driver of business value. And the idea they bought brand awareness is ridiculous as well–raising awareness of a sweepstakes is hardly the same as raising awareness or interest in insurance products.

    The tweets were entries, not engagement or social interactions–calling them brand interactions is like claiming that someone photocopying their paper sweepstakes entry and sending it to all his friends is a marketing program. And there is no reasonable way for the brand to convert Twitter followers into prospects at any sort of scale–even if Esurance reached out as Ari suggested, people would find it intrusive and spammy. The people who entered aren’t interested in engaging in a discussion about insurance or protection; they just wanted to win $1.5 million. (By the way, the brand account already shed almost 50,000 followers since the contest ended.)

    Here’s a little secret to evaluating a marketing program: If it’s easy, it isn’t really powerful, and this one so easy a child could have dreamed it up. Marketing is difficult, not easy, because differentiating yourself and developing relationships is hard. Why doesn’t every brand simply give away money for tweets–if marketing is really this easy, then we can fire half the marketing staff and shovel our money into social sweepstakes, right?

    Of course, a brand that gives away $1.5M for a tweet is going to get a lot of tweets! It would have been MORE shocking had they not. But the goal of Esurance when it spends $5 million or more shouldn’t be merely to get a bunch of tweets about its sweepstakes but to raise awareness of its differentiator (and no, I don’t think the fact the entry hashtag was #EsuranceSave30 is even remotely the same as saying they raised awareness of the brand’s value prop.) I

    I’m honestly embarrassed of my profession as a result of the praise being heaped on this program. It’s embarrassing that so many find the act of buying tweets (and not validating any marketing or business value) impressive.

  • This was not my post but I do agree with its basic premise and wanted to chime in. I know you were with the insurance industry and have experience in this area Augie so I certainly respect your opinion but here is another view.

    Claiming that the buzz Esurance created does not convert to customers is like claiming an ad with puppies and Clydesdales does not convert to beer sales. The idea is massive exposure that leads to awareness, which is pretty much the ideal role of social media.

    Esurance is the new kid on the block. It is competing against well-established brands that have spent billions of dollars over decades to keep upstarts like Esurance from gaining a foothold.

    Here is what they need to do right now: Clearly establish what makes them different and achieve massive exposure at a reasonable cost.

    I believe this campaign achieved it brilliantly. The ad features a person best known for the irreverent yet lovable character he played on The Office. Fits the brand well!

    The point of differentiation is clearly explained in the ad and reinforced with the “gimmick” — “we do things differently and turn the money back over to you.”

    The spot received massive exposure not just through a Twitter stream that may have been manufactured with a gimmick but priceless mainstream media coverage and a slot on the Jimmy Kimmel show. What is the return on that alone — free product promotion on a popular TV show? And that spot resulted in even more mainstream coverage.

    I think the brand certainly achieved what it had to do for relatively little investment. It was exactly what they needed and perfectly executed.

  • Hi Augie. Thanks for your feedback, and I did read your post thoroughly as well, and appreciate your viewpoints and expertise in the industry. Thanks for taking the time to write a well-reasoned blog post and the response on this post as well. (http://www.experiencetheblog.com/2014/02/the-mind-boggling-lunacy-of-people.html for any other readers).

    I do agree that companies don’t need to buy followers, but that they’re buying a share of the conversation that has at least a much higher probability of becoming customers than had esurance not done the campaign. I personally checked out auto, motorcycle and home rates, which were comparable to my current insurer.

    Also, as you stated in your post, Augie, most folks don’t even know they offer anything other than auto – I now do, and I think a lot more folks raised their awareness of the product as a result. But furthermore, how many times will you, Mark or I mention the campaign. How about other mentions? How much does buying a 10-minute infomercial cost on late-night network TV?

    The tweets are not engagement, but they don’t need to be. Will 50% of all your PPC clicks turn into leads or customers? No – maybe 2% or 5%. esurance didn’t go into the campaign expecting 2.6 billion new leads, they wanted to help increase awareness and perhaps as an added side benefit, direct a few leads towards the sales funnel.

    Sure the metrics are garbage, but how do mainstream media companies still sell ads? My viewership, listenership and subscribers. I’m fully confident that the 10% of a person’s followers that see a tweet is much more than percentage of newspaper subscribers seeing a particular ad in the paper.

    I know I checked out the website, and I can’t be the only one. If they hadn’t said that they already had a saturation in my market, I might’ve signed up for a $2500 yearly policy this week.

    If we take the 11 million unique impressions from your blog post, plus say, 25% of the viewership of the Super Bowl that may have seen the ad – say 27 million, and the 2.5 million Kimmel viewers. If 0.1% became customers, that’s 40,000 customers. If they each bought a $1000 policy, at a 5% profit that parent-company Allstate reports, that’s still $2 million in profit in addition to the publicity generated. It doesn’t take 2.6 billion to all become customers to get close to breaking even, not to mention renewal business.

    The marketing program was easy, but I think that made it more powerful. Anyone can understand that esurance saved 30% on their commercial, and gives the savings back. I was actually struck by the brilliance for a little while before I tweeted myself.

    Again, I think we need to look at the target. The target probably isn’t the guy that has the Excel spreadsheet comparing dozens of data points. It’s your Twitter-using teen, or younger customer. That group has the least experience when it comes to insurance, and probably has had the least exposure to various companies. Getting on that customer’s short list could mean renewal income for years to come.

    In the end, I think the determination needs to be – how did esurance compare to other brands that advertised? How did they compare to other insurance companies (are there any?) that advertised? What other campaigns did you remember or engage with, and what campaigns will you still remember in a year?

    The praise being heaped on this program by the industry is just further evidence of the success of the word-of-mouth component of the campaign. Would they have gotten more by doing nothing?

  • augieray

    Eric and Mark,

    I appreciate your openness to my concerns and the dialog. I would expect nothing less from the two of you!

    I see a profound difference between the brand impression made by an emotional ad with puppies and horses and a sweepstakes hashtag. I think that is really the essential point I am trying to convey–we have to do much less “counting” of things (impressions, RTs, etc.) and begin to focus more on business value. We have to focus less on shallow and narrow awareness (sweepstakes) and more on deep and broad awareness (an emotional Bud ad.)

    I think the time is coming where those of us in the social field must be accountable for something more than our own data. TV ad buyers cannot prove their worth based on GRPs–no one covering TV advertising would write a glowing blog post because an ad buyer achieved millions of views of their ad–nor can social media professionals demonstrate their value with RTs. If we don’t drive changes in attitude or behavior (or sales), then we are putting our jobs at risk.

    Eric, in the end I am curious if many people did what you did and checked out Esurance’s products. I very much doubt it, and the rise in traffic they’ve promoted seems 1) very modest and 2) likely caused by people seeking contest rules rather than insurance products. I am ready to admit I am wrong if presented with more data, but I just don’t think impressions and tweets ought be celebrated unless we can demonstrate financial or brand benefits.

    Thanks much!

  • Completely agree with you on your measurement points and also concur that this is a big problem almost everywhere.

    Although Bud and Esurance are at wildly different places in their branding paths, I’m not as harsh about characterizing this as shallow. They created massive conversations at reasonable cost. They may not have created a puppy-like emotional connection and maybe they didn’t need to. They are at least on the radar and have something to build on. It was a gimmick, but a gimmick that reinforced the brand message.

    So we mostly agree, and somewhat disagree, but have created great content together, which is the beauty of social media. I thank you!

  • Yes – nicely put and thanks for the great conversation!

  • augieray

    Mark, just to continue the dialog about the value of the engagement, I would submit to you the following:

    – Esurance added 260,000 followers in two days. They have since lost close to 100,000 of them, and their follower count continues to drop. Even if they retain 100,000+ of their new fans, I’d suggest this demonstrates how the brand collected meaningless fans interested in free stuff rather than prospects (and I still stand by the contention fans and followers are not prospects–at least not reasonable ones at scale–given how much difficulty brands have getting through to their fans and followers.)

    – Esurance ran a tweetchat this week and made the mistake (ONCE AGAIN!) of giving a prize for participation. (Repeating the same mistake twice is particularly damning, I think.) Very few people participated (because their fans were interested in a prize, not insurance) and the top participants were Twitter accounts with almost no tweets and 10s of thousands of tweets, all about hashtag campaigns and contests. The brand collected sweepstakes hounds, not insurance prospects.

    I’m happy to see evidence to the contrary, but I’ve yet to see any reasonable proof this program did anything particularly positive for the brand (especially when considered against the $5 million price tag.)

    Thanks for the contrary viewpoint and dialog!

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