3 Ways that Social is Saving TV Ads from Extinction

“I love commercial breaks”...said no one ever. Let’s face it, unless it’s the Super Bowl or you're in need of a restroom trip, you’re not looking forward to TV advertisements. But what if you were a part of the advertisement? And what if singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran was too? Maybe you would stay put instead of channel surfing.

This summer, E4 (Channel 4’s sister channel in the UK) partnered with Spredfast to air a live interactive advertisement. During commercial breaks on The Big Bang Theory, viewers voted to pick which song Sheeran would perform from his new album at the end of the program.

As one of the first dynamic advertisements to hit UK television screens, there are several lessons marketers can learn from including a social component in their TV advertising.

Ed Sheeran E4 TV commercial 26/06/14 by MartinCox0155  

Give a CTA or they won’t play

The concept of integrating social into advertisements is still in its infancy and while people are catching on, advertisers still have some explaining to do. To drive participation and clear up any confusion, E4 had the celebrity himself explain the process upfront. The first CTA of the night aired right when the show started and featured Ed Sheeran relaying instructions for the social vote.

When the second ad aired, engagement and viewership gained more momentum. Compared to the minute before the commercial aired, viewership jumped by nearly 8 percent for the second Ed Sheeran ad. Audiences could Shazam the second commercial to watch another song and performance exclusively on the Shazam platform too.  

Looking at the uplift in social buzz about Ed Sheeran during and, crucially, after the ads ran, we saw that viewership stayed strong even during commercial breaks. The first ad was seen by 1.42 million viewers and the second ad drew a larger audience of 2.01 million. When Ed Sheeran finally performed, he was playing for nearly 5% of all UK television viewers!

Alignment is everything

The purpose of the ad takeover was to promote Ed Sheeran’s new album. Placing the ads during a Shopping Network marathon at 4 a.m. wouldn’t have hooked the 2.28 million The Big Bang Theory viewers.

The show’s audience is a perfect match for Ed Sheeran’s existing and future fan base. These ads boosted audience engagement and proved that social can provide heightened participation around a brand’s ads so long as they’re placed appropriately.

Build up to the big bang

The Ed Sheeran advertisements all led up to the end of the program when the artist took to the stage for a live performance. After the first ad aired, @edsheeran received a sharp uplift in mentions and those numbers only continued to grow after the second CTA and the final performance. Thousands of mentions of @edsheeran poured onto Twitter, up to 110% more traffic than his handle received right before  the program began.

The steady drumbeat of CTAs encouraged viewer participation and, based on the audience’s response, the commercials were well received. When the show was over, mentions of @edsheeran only kept climbing and hype for his new album gained major momentum from fans.

Plenty of power

Ed Sheeran received a direct and measurable uplift in mentions after the ads aired. With this new form of advertising, we are comparing data in an unprecedented way—using audience figures and social engagement figures to validate audience participation.

From a brand perspective, these dynamic ads are quickly proving their power—showing strong viewing figures even during commercial breaks. In Ed Sheeran’s case, that power meant a boost in conversation surrounding his new album and a stronger understanding of which songs his fans liked the most!


September 9, 2014
Think Like a Chief Marketing Technologist
September 16, 2014
Keep Up or Catch Up: The New Social Media Pocket Guide
Samantha is a PR Manager at Spredfast where she showcases the customers and thought leaders behind the world's best social software platform. Texas born and raised, Samantha is also a Longhorn lover, wilderness explorer, and cupcake connoisseur. Follow her for the latest on Spredfast and, of course, food.