How ‘We’re The Superhumans’ Confirms the Power of Social

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In my opinion, this year’s advert for the Paralympic games in Rio has the potential to go down as one of 2016’s greatest trailers.

It takes a lot to combine passion, confidence, inspiration, celebration, defiance and awe into three minutes, but this advert does it all and with a cracking soundtrack to boot.

We’re The Superhumans was released by Channel 4 last week as the world began the leadup to the Olympic and Paralympic games. Contrary to the broadcaster’s usual advertising methods, this year the trailer was premiered on social media a day before being broadcast on TV. For us as digital marketers, that’s big news. We bet the boardroom discussions on this were pretty interesting at Channel 4 towers.

In 2012, Channel 4’s Paralympic advert was launched simultaneously across 78 channels at 9pm, to at least 50 per cent of the UK audience. This year’s ad was published on Channel 4’s Facebook page at 19:53 to a combined global audience upwards of 2.65 billion users on Facebook and YouTube, as well as Twitter’s 140 million daily users.

The change in promotional strategy from Channel 4 has helped the trailer surpass viewing expectation. At the time of writing, the advert has amassed 25 million video views and over 660,000 shares on Facebook alone. It has already driven the most organic video views and overall reach from a post on the broadcaster’s Facebook page this year. On YouTube, it’s had more than 1.8m views over the past six days. 

So what does this tell us about the ways advertisers are choosing to get their content out to the public?

This is a bold move from Channel 4. They didn’t choose to launch the campaign on social and TV simultaneously, they consciously chose social – out of all traditional and outdoor options – as the best initial method for the campaign’s launch.

It’s no secret that brands are continuing to invest more of their marketing budgets in online advertising and on video in particular. In 2015, UK digital adspend grew 16.4% to over £8.6bn. Video ad spend grew 50.7% to £711 million overall whilst video spend on mobile alone increased by 98% to £353 million due to the increasing numbers of people watching video, TV and film on smartphones. (Source: IAB)

In 2016, it’s expected that total internet advertising will rise by a further 11.5%. TV advertising spend also continues to increase, but I think it’s the boldness of strategies like Channel 4’s, that will make even more ripples within the advertising industry and affect other marketers’ strategies in the future.

More and more brands are putting their faith in online; particularly in social. Take Nike and Adidas for example. During the 2012 Olympics, Nike became particularly visible across London with their campaign which celebrated everyday athletes. Outdoor advertising across the city featured the hashtag #findgreatness. Nike wasn’t an official sponsor but as a sports brand, this was a perfect opportunity to promote their products and brand message.

Adidas on the other hand were an official sponsor at a cost of tens of millions of pounds. Adidas’ campaign featured the hashtag #takethestage across TV, outdoor and digital marketing. Their ads featured competing athletes including Tom Daley and Jessica Ennis-Hill as well as cameos from comedian Keith Lemon and musician Example amongst others.

So who came up trumps?

Well, according to Socialbakers’ CheerMeter, Nike did. There were more than 16,000 tweets associating Nike with the word ‘Olympic’ compared to 9,295 for Adidas, across the same period. Nike also attracted over 166,718 new Facebook fans during the Olympics compared to 80,761 for Adidas.

Nike also saw similar results during the World Cup. Sponsors Adidas beat Nike in terms of TV exposure, but Nike reigned as the most-viewed brand of the tournament in terms of online video, with eight campaigns garnering a total 240.6 million views. Considering that there were a total of 97 campaigns and 671.6 million views of branded videos relating to  the tournament, this is quite some feat.

The battle between TV and online advertising is seeing both sides argue their case quite convincingly, particularly when referring to ad spend. Social media undoubtedly has fantastic reach thanks to social sharing. It also has the insights and analytics to determine the reach of a campaign; something that isn’t directly comparable to the reach and effectiveness of a TV advert. Ideally what’s needed is something to translate digital views into TV audiences and vice versa.

Admittedly, I first saw the advert on TV, stopping mid-brew run to stand slightly open mouthed at the incredible scenes depicting disabled people carrying out tasks from the ordinary to the extraordinary; from rock climbing and playing the piano to eating a bowl of cereal. Even though I initially watched on a television, it was straight to social to see the response.

As a side note, it’s also interesting to look at the spike in searches for both ‘Paralympics’ and ‘Superhumans’ in July. You can see the sharp increase begin on July 14th – the day of the launch.


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In a world where digital conversation is hugely important for brands, the decision to launch the campaign on social media is a strong one from Channel 4. The conversation was ignited and the TV ad continued the momentum into family living rooms. Perhaps John Lewis’ Christmas campaign might be the next to follow suit?

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About Olwen Shaw

Olwen is OVG's Communications Director and has a particular interest in all things social media. She's a fan of nana-ish activities, running (sort of) and really wants to own a dog named Atticus.

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