That Esurance Super Bowl Stunt and Finding the Real Value of Social Media

by Mack Collier


So here’s the deal: Instead of buying a Super Bowl ad, Esurance bought the first ad AFTER the Super Bowl.  And they saved $1.5 Million in the process, then gave away that money.  If you wanted to win the cash, all you had to do was tweet the hashtag #ESuranceSave30 within 36 hours of the ad being aired.

AdWeek lauded the stunt as a huge success, and cited these results in making that claim:

• 5.4 million uses of the #EsuranceSave30 hashtag
• More than 200,000 entries within the first minute of the Esurance commercial airing
• 1.4 million hashtag uses in the first hour and 4.5 million in the first 24 hours
• 2.6 billion social impressions on Twitter
• 332,000 views of the Esurance commercial on YouTube
• 261,000 new followers on the official Esurance Twitter account—an increase of nearly 3,000 percent
• A 12x spike in visits to the Esurance website in the first hours of the sweepstakes

Does that look like a successful social media sweepstakes to you?

Augie Ray has an exhaustive analysis of the social sharing results Esurance saw from this stunt, and is critical of the rush to laud these results as being a sign of a win:

I am deeply disappointed to see Esurance’s Super Bowl sweepstakes results widely celebrated. Six years into the social era, I thought we had reached a certain point of social media maturity where we realize that fans and followers are not leads and that relationships are built through shared values and meaningful interactions. I naively thought that we had turned a corner, with widespread understanding that winning in social media occurs by providing great experiences that build long-term relationships and not with campaigns that yield short-term spikes of activity. I was wrong.

It’s easy to look at the results and be wowed.  But as Augie pointed out in his post, let’s not lose sight of the fact that these engagement figures are based on Esurance giving away $1.5 Million dollars.  I’m betting any of us could do the same thing on Twitter and get a shit-ton of new followers.

Augie also points out in his post that ESurance has already lost 15% of the followers they gained from this stunt.

And to me, this is the key point.  How well does Esurance convert these new followers and visitors into customers?  A 12X spike in website traffic is significant, as long as those visitors didn’t simply go to the site for 15 seconds because of this sweepstakes, and then never return.

On the other hand, if Esurance found a way to stay engaged with those new website visitors, then that does have value for the brand.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of the people that engaged with the brand immediately after the ad likely had no loyalty toward the brand, they just wanted to win the cash.  So while the ‘eye-popping’ social engagement numbers look good, they are the social media equivalent of farting in an elevator.  It gets everyone’s attention…till the doors open up and then everyone moves on with their lives.

The ultimate success of this stunt will be dictated by how many new customer relationships are created as a result.  If Esurance built into this ways to leverage the new exposure into an ongoing relationship, then the chances of this stunt being a success increase dramatically.

My guess is they (and their agency) are thrilled with the extra ‘pr value’ they got from this.

What do you think, do the above results make this a successful initiative in your mind?

Mack Collier February 11, 2014 at 8:04 am

Oh BTW just a sidenote: Chris, who’s tweet I added above, is the person that got me started blogging, way back in 2005. From the Talent Zoo message boards to this.

Steve (JoeBugBuster) Case February 11, 2014 at 9:12 am

When this whole #EsuranceSave30 thing came out, it sounded more like buying followers in social media than actually marketing a product. You and Chris said it better than I did Mack. :-)

Mack Collier February 11, 2014 at 9:23 am

Good point, Steve. As Augie pointed out in his post, they paid roughly $20 each for those followers. Ouch!

I’m ok with them going after more followers, if they can KEEP them and convert them into customers. Time will tell if that happens. I’m sure if it does we’ll get an update from the agency, and if not…. :)

Robin Colner February 11, 2014 at 10:20 am

I have been reading your blog for several years. I understand your disappointment over the Esurance stunt, but I think it was successful. Esurance wanted to increase awareness of their brand as an alternative to the other long established insurance companies. Everyone who tweeted will actually remember the name when then are in the market for insurance. Also, after studying and teaching social media marketing over the past 5 years, it has become apparent that public relations stunts help get brands earned media attention for several weeks or months. It is also important for us to consider how many people really want to have a meaningful relationship with their insurance companies. I want that relationship with my insurance company only when I want them to process my claim quickly and effectively.

Mack Collier February 11, 2014 at 10:28 am

Hey Robin, thanks for reading! I will agree with you that this will definitely increase brand awareness, but in my view it will be very short-lived. And if I were shopping for a new policy, would the fact that I remembered Esurance doing this prompt me to want to do business with them? Not really. It might make me remember who they were and to check their rates, but that would be about the best case scenario.

I understand your point about earned media, and that does have value. I would rather see them look for ways to develop an ongoing relationship with all the people that started following them just to have a chance to win some cash. That would be the best way to create real value from this stunt. In my opinion, thanks for the comment!

Jerome Pineau February 11, 2014 at 11:02 am

Couldn’t you make the same argument with the Old Spice campaign(s)?

Mack Collier February 11, 2014 at 11:20 am

I think so, to a lesser degree simply because it was supported by broadcast commercials, and it was a true campaign vs a one-off.

But yes, actual sales growth seemed to be tough to track. AdAge found that sales results for the brand seemed to be more or less consistent with competitors –

But again, a campaign, so there were several spots and videos involved. I think that had a bigger impact, but at the end of the day it looks like there wasn’t a meaningful sales spike from the campaign. If you or anyone else has seen information that points to sales growth from the Old Spice ads, please share!

Jerome Pineau February 11, 2014 at 11:22 am

Yeah would love to find out — posted same question on Augie’s piece actually. We should get some insight there.
Thanks Mack

Augie Ray February 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

If you don’t mind, I’ll share the same answer here that I gave to you on my own blog. In my mind, Old Spice and the Esurance Super Bowl sweeps are only superficially related. Where it counts, I believe they are quite different. My response:


I won’t know the number off the top of my head (and don’t have time to search for it now) but Old Spice did move the needle and increased sales and market share for the brand. For this reason, it is an excellent program to compare to Esurance. If the two are alike, then Esurance may benefit; if not, then questions should be asked.

In my opinion, while there are similarities (TV ad sparking online engagement), there are more differences. It comes down, once again, to breath and depth. Old Spice’s interactions were memorable–people actually interacted with the Old Spice man, as opposed to merely a hashtag tweet. There was actual interaction between the brand and the consumer–not just sweeps entries. People saw content they wanted to share. And, most importantly, the Old Spice interactions were focused on the brand proposition–people were talking not about a sweepstakes but about the product and brand message. In addition, Old Spice changed their packaging–they didn’t just try to appear hip on TV and in social media but also welcomed consumers with packaging that said, “We are not your father’s deodorant.” (I think it’s also important to point out that the buying decision is a whole lot different for a CPG item that costs $1.79 than for the onerous insurance application process.)

I’m glad you asked and it gives me an opportunity to share something that is vital in this discussion (at least for me): I acknowledge that there are some GREAT examples of social media marketing, but I think many, MANY more brands simply fail at it. And the success we see is tough to replicate–Old Spice tried to return to the well of social but with much smaller outcomes. Dove Real Beauty is another great example of social media marketing that worked, but with each new video they produce, the brand gets fewer views and raises more questions along the lines of, “Isn’t this product from the same company that produces Axe–how deep is their commitment to this message, really?”

The brands that succeed don’t resort to cheap freebies and sweeps, they don’t fake account hacks or tweet while wearing their mittens and they don’t churn out jokey viral videos. The ones we’ve seen that succeed time and again are the ones that focus on purpose (Secret “Let Her Jump,” Dove Real Beauty, USAA), functionality (Amex, Starbucks) or product experience (Ford Fiesta, Blendtec “Will It Blend.”)

What do you think? Do you see the differences that I see between a successful program such as Old Spice and the Super Bowl effort from Esurance?

Davina K. Brewer February 11, 2014 at 12:24 pm

We often have the same questions after any big marketing push – and same challenges – making a direct “ad + awareness = purchase’ correlation. There’s an X factor to the SB cachet, there’s something to be said of awareness being necessary before need/want. I liked the Old Spice, other brand campaigns. While I can’t say they’ve made me buy.. maybe they made others, made the markets and investors take notice, made the brands more valuable in other ways. Augie makes a good point about goals and approach to biz – are you trying to market or are you actually social, in a world where social is so much more than selling? That said, this seemed more of a stunt, a gimmick – the only ‘value’ to brand a quick flash, a little buzz.

Many of these number grabs and new customer deals are often at the expense of the current ones; so as much as how many customers were gained, I’d like to know how many existing customers were maybe excluded or lost by this? I know I hate it when, as a long-time loyal customer, I can’t get the sale or deal. FWIW.

Gerardo A Dada February 11, 2014 at 3:36 pm


While I agree with you in principle, I think we need to be careful to assume all marketing, advertising or social media activities are designed to produce immediate sales.

In the case of Esurance, I think the ad can be considered successful if it makes the brand a mainstream brand in the auto insurance market. That is likely to result in more policies being sold over time – although not directly. The same can be said of Maserati. The ad’s goal, IMHO is to take the brand from niche to mainstream in the sports luxury segment.

I think it is useful to look at GoDaddy – I wrote a post this week that evaluates direct sales that can be attributed to their superbowl ads but also brand recall and company growth over time.

For companies that are already mainstream brands, like Bud Light and Kia, a SuperBowl ad need to take consumers from aware to action and have a clear value prop. My point being that the ads need to serve a different purpose depending on the specific situation of each company.



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