Faculty & Research
The School


Study shows social media advertising can lift brand awareness

New research released by Oxford Saїd and Kantar Millward Brown at an event in London last week reveals that social media advertising can be a highly effective channel for driving long-term brand impact, and the most successful brands will be the ones who appear most ‘human’. The study, conducted as part of Kantar’s involvement in the Oxford Future of Marketing Initiative with Saïd Business School, revealed that social media advertising is a good way to create long-term brand impact, boosting metrics such as brand awareness and association.

Andrew Stephen, L’Oréal Professor of Marketing, and his colleague, Felipe Thomaz, Associate Professor of Marketing at Saïd Business School, examined Kantar Millward Brown data from Facebook and Instagram advertising campaigns over the last two years, looking at longer term brand measures such as awareness and affinity, rather than short term clicks or sales measures.

In the first research study of its kind, the team examined 235 global campaigns from 110 different brands, using proprietary data from campaign effectiveness polls carried out by Kantar Millward Brown. These campaigns were 80% video (vs 20% display), and all mobile. Natural Language Processing provided additional analysis of the brands’ own Facebook posts.

The team found that there is no strong correlation between campaign success and factors such as industry category, region, or the number of creative formats used in a campaign. However, those brands who communicate using human language, tapping into people’s emotions and avoiding more functional words and phrases, tend to perform better in advertising effectiveness, on brand metrics such as aided brand awareness, ad awareness and aided product awareness.

Stephen and Thomaz also carried out an additional meta-analysis of Kantar Millward Brown’s broader digital effectiveness data (Marketnorms). This looked at over 8,800 global campaigns across many digital channels, to gauge the impact of desktop vs mobile advertising on brand metrics over the last 7 years. It shows that whilst brands are now spending more on mobile advertising than desktop advertising, it is equally as effective in terms of brand impact.

Mobile display effectiveness now shows an average lift across brand metrics of 3.8%, slightly below that of desktop display.

At a time when some of the world’s largest advertisers are questioning the efficacy of digital advertising, many are under pressure to show returns from social media spend. This study shows that a long-term return is possible – if social media advertising is done well.

Key findings:

  • Brand impact: Social media can drive long-term brand impact, particularly in salience (brand awareness, ad awareness), and most campaigns have a positive impact on brand KPIs.
  • Context matters: Brands that communicate in their own Facebook/Instagram posts using “human” language, tapping into people’s emotions and avoiding the more functional words and phrases, tend to also be those brands that perform well in the brand impact of their advertising.
  • Desktop isn’t dead: The average lift for brand KPIs on desktop is now the same as mobile, so the ‘new and shiny’ of mobile may have worn off, and desktop is still heavily used for some categories, e.g. travel.

‘These findings are hugely important for businesses in understanding how they communicate on social media, with those who interact in a human and emotive manner able to capture greater awareness of their brands and products,’ said Professor Stephen.

‘The research also delivers useful insight on where advertisers should focus their efforts. With brand impact now delivered equally through desktop and mobile, advertisers must consider more carefully their media mix in order to reach consumers across these channels.’

The shock of the new can wear off, which is one reason why there was a drop in mobile ad effectiveness over time. The mobile environment is more cluttered than before and it is known that consumers find some formats irritating. Marketers need to make sure that they try out new formats as they appear, to benefit from the brand lift effect, and they must adopt a test and learn approach. Facebook and Instagram’s continual innovation on their platforms keeps the experience fresh for consumers.

Professor Andrew Stephen is the programme director of the Oxford Strategic Marketing Programme, where participants fundamentally redefine their approach to marketing. The next iteration is taking place 14-18 May 2018 and registration is now open.


Andrew Stephen

Andrew Stephen View profile

Professor Andrew Stephen is the Associate Dean of Research and L’Oréal Professor of Marketing at the Saïd Business School at the University of Oxford. Andrew is one of the world’s leading academic marketing experts.
Felipe Thomaz image

Felipe Thomaz View profile

Felipe Thomaz is an Associate Professor of Marketing whose research focuses on empirically modeling marketing strategy issues

How do you successfully carry out marketing in a technology-driven world?