battle of Super Bowl advertising thanks to its heartstring-tugging ‘Lost Puppy’ ad that showed a Labrador pup on an epic journey back to a farm. TNS was a dissenting voice. We knew from our surveys at the time that although the ad was novel and had affective impact, it fell down badly on relevance to the brand and to people’s lives. We knew that Lost Puppy wouldn’t deliver meaningful benefits for Budweiser – and later that year, that’s what Budweiser’s VP Marketing for the US, Jorn Socquet acknowledged that it had failed actually to influence consumer behaviour in any meaningful way: “those ads I won’t air again, because they don’t sell beer.”

Had Soquet had access to maps of the Twitter conversations his campaign was generating, he would have had earlier warning that it wasn't connecting in the way that he would have liked. The ad generated a high volume of activity, reflecting the initial excitement and emotional impact, but this activity added up to little more than an ‘echo chamber’, with people simply retweeting the promotional tweets from Budweiser’s official account. A lack of autonomous conversations showed that communities weren’t taking ownership of the brand activity – they couldn’t talk about it autonomously because it had no obvious relevance to them.

When Bundaberg Rum designed its  ‘Cheers to a Legend’  multi-platform campaign it hoped to inspire social media buzz at scale by associating itself with famous sportsmen. It failed to do so – and the Twitter network maps again tell the story. Bundaberg Rum generated a series of unrelated tweets and small-scale conversations that were unconnected both to the brand and to one another. Like Budweiser, the campaign had failed to establish relevance – the difference was that it hadn’t succeeded in establishing much initial excitement either. Small conversations sparked spontaneously into life but never built up any serious momentum to suggest they resonated with online communities.

The pattern of success on social

Studying the shape of social media campaigns doesn’t just deliver bad news; it can also show when activity connects on a deeper level than might immediately be apparent. Many UK commentators had concluded that the 2015 ‘Man on the Moon’ Christmas campaign from retailer John Lewis, which focused on the challenging theme of elderly people feeling isolated at Christmas, had missed the mark. Our study of social media conversations shows that it didn’t. The campaign created an ecosystem of automomous Twitter conversations that demonstrate how the issue resonates with people. The fact that those conversations link seamlessly back to John Lewis’s Twitter presence suggests that audiences also saw the subject as relevant to John Lewis’s role as a retailer bringing families together. In contrast, Sainsbury’s ad featuring the beloved childrens’ book character Mog, which seen by many as the winner of Christmas 2015, generated only the same ‘hub and spoke’ pattern that Budweiser’s Lost Puppy had. Relevance to people’s lives was again the missing ingredient.


This isn’t to say that the volume of tweets a campaign generates isn’t significant. It’s indicative of initial excitement, awareness and word of mouth, all of which matter. However, simply generating a lot of noise on Twitter is no reliable indicator that a campaign is delivering against long-term brand objectives. Even its awareness benefits are likely to be transitory. A truly successful campaign needs to combine reach and scale with patterns indicating personal relevance.

The shape of better social media strategies

Analysing the shape of social media conversations in this way raises some intriguing issues around marketing strategy.

Meaningful success on social media comes from aligning a brand campaign with the issues that motivate existing social communities. This raises questions about the true effectiveness of strategies such as Influencer marketing, which often delivers scale and reach by spreading brand messages through an influencer’s individual network, but doesn’t generate autonomous conversations that show people taking ownership of the issue.

By mapping the communities and conversations that naturally form in the social media space, marketers can identify the issues that motivate and resonate with their target audiences. Finding meaningful, relevant and authentic roles for their brands regarding these issues is a far more effective starting point for planning campaigns that can connect both on social media and beyond. This is what Bundaberg Rum did in response to the initial lack of excitement around its ‘Cheers to a Legend’ campaign, identifying the sporting communities that it needed to connect with, and planning its approach far more carefully around doing so. Later executions focused on

Anne is the Global Head of Communications Research for TNS, spanning creative development, media effectiveness, and touchpoints optimisation. She works closely with teams from across TNS to bring our best thinking and offers to our clients.

Kyle is the Head of Data Science and Knowledge Creation at the TNS Global Brand Equity Centre in Cape Town, South Africa. His data science team is intimately involved in the development of TNS’ technology-enabled research offers.

Bundaberg Rum Twitter data: checked for >90% above Legal Purchase Age