February 03, 2014

Despite the fact that the actual football game was over, arguably, about 15 seconds in, the Super Bowl is just as much a showcase of the biggest American brands as it is the biggest American sport. And in a weak year overall for commercials, Esurance scored the hit of the night with its viral Twitter contest linked to a post-game ad featuring actor John Krasinski:

The #EsuranceSave30 hashtag is still among the top trending Twitter topics in the United States on Monday, as the millions of users grapple for positions in the grand drawing. An Esurance spokesperson told Insurance & Technology in an e-mail that the company is using technology from Mass Relevance and Sysomos, as well as the popular client HootSuite, to manage the campaign, monitor ongoing chatter and respond to consumers. (This effort can't be undertaken with technology alone, of course; the spokesperson adds that the carrier also has a full team in place to manage the sweepstakes.)

Last year after the Super Bowl I wrote about why State Farm's blackout tweet wasn't as successful as Oreo's. This year, it's all about positive reinforcement for insurers, however, which should note these key factors in Esurance's success:

  • Simple concept. The Super Bowl is probably the biggest unifying television event of the year, with much of the country focused in on the game and giving their real-time feedback on their social networks. Many brands try in their Super Bowl spots to be overly clever or shocking. But in a post-Go Daddy world, shock and titillation will only go so far -- and cleverness can be lost on a mass audience. A well-regarded spokesperson calmly offering a gigantic prize for something people were doing anyway is just what the doctor ordered. It's a great meta call by Esurance, which easily could've announced the contest with lots of pomp and circumstance. But rather than compete for mindshare with the latest rah-rah spot from Chrysler, the subdued ad with the famous spokesperson and the big payoff took off.

  • No fear. CNET noted early on that the Esurance hashtag was being associated with some less than savory concepts due to the company's incentive to use it and social media's sarcastic user base. But Esurance was never frightened of that. Its contest rules state that it reserves the right to disqualify any offensive or vulgar tweet, the spokesperson said, and even then, with so many people entering, it's difficult to imagine anyone associating Esurance with offense simply because of individual twitter users. And at the same time, you never know how the Twitterverse will respond to a Super Bowl ad: You could be associated with some unsavory tweets no matter what you do, as Coke and Pepsi are finding out today.

  • Cost-effective. At the time of this writing, Esurance says its follower count has increased by 1100% (that's not a typo; it went from under 9,000 to over 100,000). Is that worth $1.5 million dollars? Probably. Right now, the $1.5 million it's giving away means it's getting followers for about $15 each, and I'm sure it's not done adding to that number yet. Social media contains an attractive customer base for insurers and being present in so many more feeds should increase the ROI of any social campaigns it attempts in the future. And even though the game was a dog, let's be real: People aren't just turning it off en masse once it's out of hand. Esurance smartly identified a time slot and production value that would make its money go farthest.

    All in all, it's not just a big win for Esurance, but also insurers overall, which can with more effective use like this leap forward into the 21st century when it comes to customer interaction — and shed the stodgy laggard stereotype.

    Nathan Golia is senior editor of Insurance & Technology. He joined the publication in 2010 as associate editor and covers all aspects of the nexus between insurance and information technology, including mobility, ...