Watching Super Bowl commercials is a celebrated American tradition. With more than a hundred million viewers tuned in, the pressure to stand out on Super Bowl Sunday is sky high. That's why many companies try to make their spots just-controversial-enough. But not going overboard is easier said than done. This tone deafness was on full display in 2011 when Groupon’s Super Bowl ad diminished the suffering of people in Tibet. The reactions from viewers were loud and clear: Groupon took it too far. Now, data scientists are finding ways to avoid this super costly faux pas.
The researchers dug into large volumes of YouTube comments for both controversial and non-controversial ads. After selecting the ads, they used CrowdFlower's data enrichment platform to classify comments based on various factors. The enriched labels served as ground truth to train their algorithms and conduct a large scale, programmatic analysis of the comments to draw definitive conclusions.
As the researchers put it:
“We extract(ed) early YouTube comments on a collection of around 45 Superbowl advertisements. We generate(d) a comprehensive set of over 2500 semantic and lin-guistic features and evaluate(d) their efficacy in automatically detecting controversial comments.”
The conclusions drawn from the data were quite interesting. Here are a few of the notable findings:
The lesson to be learned is, yes, controversy does get more attention. If you want to stand out, alluding to race, religion, and sex could pay dividends. But it's clear that controversial ads, if not done properly, can upset a lot of people and lead to substantial backlash.
While analyzing YouTube comments can't necessarily be done before an ad is public, the controversial ingredients of those comments, distilled by these researchers, could be used as a measuring stick in advance of an ads' release.
Walking the line is inherently risky, but CMOs and ad agencies would be wise to tap data science and consider using this rubric next time they want to go down that road.