Bank’s Snapchat stunt doesn’t add up

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The Bank of England caught some flack recently when Business Insider learned they’d spent almost £3000 on a Snapchat filter to promote the new £10 note.

The filter, which let Snapchat users overlay their selfies with the new note, was made available in seven cities around the UK, promoted by the Bank’s governor Mark Carney.

This struck me as a bizarre choice of ad spend for our central bank. Do banknotes really need promoting? Are they trying too hard to get down with the kids? Or is it just me – rapidly approaching middle age – who doesn’t get it?

So I followed up with a Freedom of Information request, hoping to find out why they chose this channel, and what increase in awareness the filter delivered, so I could better understand where Snapchat might add value for the businesses I advise.

I finally got a response to the request this week, a day after the statutory time limit elapsed. This doesn’t suggest a great commitment to transparency.

Shockingly, the answers to the questions I posed raised more concerns, not just about how they used Snapchat, but about the setting of outcome-based objectives in communications planning and execution. It appears that:

  • the BofE didn’t put together a business case for use of Snapchat
  • didn’t set any objectives for it
  • and haven’t evaluated its effectiveness
  • at least they didn’t spend a lot of money designing it

While this was a relatively small amount of money, what was more concerning than the potential waste of public funds was that the BofE lacked a robust, costed and measured campaign approach for their most high-profile launch this year.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the issues this raises.

Objectives

A campaign without an objective is not a campaign – it’s just some activity. Campaigns set out clearly what they’re trying to achieve, who they are targeting and how impact can be demonstrated. This, in turn guides the choice of channel and format and the allocation of spend across the channel mix.

“Raise awareness of the new £10 note” is an objective, but it’s not a very good one.

I’ll confess I find the idea of promoting a note that people have no choice about using absolutely baffling. I can understand them doing some PR on the new(ish) polymer maybe, or on the note featuring a woman (Jane Austen) after a controversial campaign. But not to simply tell people it exists. That’s what prompted me to ask for campaign objectives – but since they don’t exist, I’m none the wiser.

Did they have research to show that there needed to be awareness raising for a new note? Have they defined what awareness means in this context? What baseline are they measuring against?

You have to understand the current state of play in order to plan your response to it. This doesn’t seem to have happened here, which leaves the BofE without an effective basis on which to define, plan or measure success.

Better might be “To achieve 50% awareness of the new £10 (measured through surveys) by 31/09/17” as this is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic (when based on my fictional baseline) and time-bound.

Audiences

In their reply, the BofE told me “social media plays an important part of the Bank’s efforts to reach a broader range of people through non-traditional media.” 

For fiat money to have value it needs to be accepted as a medium of exchange. That means it needs widespread acceptance across all age groups – and given the ubiquity of social media use among younger age groups, it makes sense to use it to reach them.

So why Snapchat? While the BofE hadn’t produced a business case – although I’d argue the email exchange in which this decision was made would count as one for the purposes of the FOIA – they did tell me:

“One of the reasons this was chosen ahead of other ideas was because a large percentage of Snapchat users are within the 16-24 demographic, which was one of the groups the Bank was keen to target within the overall campaign.”

Again on first glance this seems sensible. Having highlighted the need to target younger people, taking the message to the platforms, channels and communities where that audience segment is active is exactly what you should be doing.

But the beauty – and many would say the point – of paid social is the degree to which advertisers can use it to target audiences. While Snapchat’s targeting options aren’t anywhere near as granular as Facebook’s, they do enable targeting by demographics, interests and behaviours, as well as devices. Done properly this provides an effective and measureable way to hit their target of 16-25-year-old Brits.

Targeting

For those not familiar with Snapchat, it has a handful of ad products:

  • Ads: These are short vertical videos. According to research from Millward Brown Digital these are shown to boost brand favourability and mobile purchase intent – which explains their popularity with FMCG and lifestyle brands. There are ‘swipe up’ subcategories to drive web views, app installs and so on. In the course of this campaign the BofE spent £7250 on Snapchat video ads, but it’s not clear if these were targeted at particular demographic groups.
  • Filters: These allow users to add a graphic frame around a photo or selfie, which can then be made available within a specific geographic location or nationwide. KFC have had huge amounts of success with these, making the Colonel Sanders lens available only to those physically in or near their outlets – driving a 600% increase in footfall.This is the ad type BofE spent £2,819.28 on, and to which my FOI request refers.
  • Lenses: This is what comes to mind for most people think of Snapchat. Brand-sponsored lenses, active for 24 hours, allow users to interact with the lens and by opening their mouth or raising their eyebrows make their own funny, shareable video. These require significant investment to create and run, and typically are run nationally. And they can pack a punch; the Taco Bell Sponsored Lens received over 224 million views. Snapchatters tend to play with Sponsored Lenses for an average of 20 seconds. Think about that: while on most platforms people hate ads, people on Snapchat go out of their way to “play” with ads. So in terms of bang for buck, Lenses are pretty bloody good.

Which makes the decision to target by geography using lenses the most baffling element of the Bank of England’s approach. If the aim is to drive awareness among a broad demographic group all over the country – why make this available only in tiny geographic areas?

And why these areas? If I were to pick places where 16-to-25-year-olds hang out, I wouldn’t choose Borough Market or Winchester Cathedral. Piccadilly Circus was another location chosen. If they’d ever been there, there’d know it’s hardly teeming with young adult Brits on a Thursday (14 September, when the lens was live, was a weekday).

If the aim was to target young people, why not do it properly and develop a lens? Or make the geofilter available across the whole of the UK?

Given the miniscule ‘geofences’ they created for this campaign, the tiny budget allocated (relying on people on-sharing for reach), and the weekday timing, I’d argue they did this to say they’re doing something new and innovative, rather than as a serious attempt to use Snapchat to engage large numbers of under 25s. And that’s a missed opportunity.

Metrics

Communicators should consider outcome-based metrics right at the start of campaign planning, to ensure evaluation is built in before a single asset is produced or shared.

Again, the BofE have fallen short here. While admitting they “do not hold any ‘evaluations’ for the specific Snapchat geofilter”, the BofE did reveal their approach to measurement.

“progress against the educational campaign’s main objective was measured by independently run surveys of awareness amongst the general public, which showed that the level of overall awareness of the new £10 note increased over the duration of the campaign”.

Surveys aren’t, in principle, a bad way to measure awareness levels. But unless combined with additional approaches they tell you nothing about the role of the campaign in driving any increase in awareness (versus people simply becoming aware through, say, receiving the new note in change). To get a broader picture of campaign effectiveness this could have been combined with secondary metrics looking at advocacy and impact. For example:

  • Are people talking about the new note on social media?
  • Are there differences in volumes of queries about the note among groups who have seen the campaign versus those who did not?

Channel metrics are meaningless unless these are mapped against business objectives. We need to move away from outputs like impressions and look instead at outtakes and outcomes – that is, the stuff that actually matters. AMEC provides a useful, robust framework with which to do this. As a public body the BofE should also have followed the GCS OASIS framework. It’s not clear why they haven’t.

Value for money

Awareness surveys tell us nothing about the performance of any particular channel or asset, which makes it difficult to see whether Snapchat was a good use of resources. They did, however, share this insight:

“the Snapchat geofilter was used 1,415 times, earning 101,000 impressions”

What this does reveal is a spend of £1.99 per Snap and 2.8 pence per impression. Impressions are just vanity metrics, as they don’t tell you anything about whether the audience understood or recalled the message. But using the more common ad industry standard, this works out at a whopping £27.91 CPM. This is astoundingly poor value for a brand awareness campaign compared with other online display ad formats and platforms.

Resources

In response to my question about the cost of developing creative for the campaign, the BofE told me “the geofilter was designed in-house, and therefore there were no associated design and content development costs.”

The concept of cost-free internal resource is a new one on me. There might not be an invoice to pay, but bums on seats still cost money. In the context of the waste of resources that the filter represented, though, this is small fry.

Where did it go wrong?

By asking the right questions, communicators help an organisation determine and align to campaign metrics that drive business results rather than get distracted by vanity stats.

When this doesn’t happen, opportunities to test and optimise are missed, objectives aren’t met and money is flushed down the drain.

These days it not just enough to guess what is and isn’t working. The tools exist to track results, so they must be used and the data they produce be put to good use determining the effectiveness of any campaign.

So what’s perhaps most surprising of all is that this approach was, according to the FOI response, signed off by senior Bank of England officials, who then failed to ask for any evaluation or reporting. That suggests a worrying lack of strategic communications oversight.

While this was a small amount of money and a trivial campaign, the lack of management scrutiny over planning, execution and evaluation makes me wonder what else our money is being wasted on.

Read the FOI response in full.

Are there any stats or lessons I’ve missed? Am I just out of touch? Let me know in the comments below.

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