Academic Research: The Power of Paid Aggregation for Brands

Multiple forms of content aggregated together can be enhanced through paid advertising. 

A study by Stanford School of Business marketing professors Navdeep S. Sahni and Harikesh S. Nair, proves this out through the results of a large scale field experiment on a restaurant review application. 

While much of their learnings can extend to both organic and paid content, there is perhaps more value to be found on the paid side. Sahni and Nair used a randomized sample of more than 200,000 consumers divided into two groups, those exposed to ads, and those not exposed to ads. They ended up finding that advertising in-of-itself increases consumers’ evaluations of local restaurants. Noting that, “Ads serve as implicit signals that enhance the appeal of the advertised restaurants to consumers.” In other words, the restaurants that advertised more, got better reviews and more business. While one might expect that, we ignore the inner workings of this cycle at our own peril. What’s even more interesting is that Sahni and Nair also randomized the ad-exposure group, with one group seeing the ad content tagged as “sponsored,” what they call the “disclosure” group. In the other group, consumers were simply shown the ad content without a tag. What did they find? Disclosing ad content increased calls to the restaurant by 77%! This statistic caused Sahni and Nair to conclude that “the act of advertising itself conveys information about quality.”

It really is another virtuous cycle of sorts, which brands can seize for their network, as Sahni and Nair conclude:

“Both consumers and advertisers seem to benefit from the signalling. Consumers shift choices towards restaurants that are better rated (at baseline) in the disclosure group compared to the non-disclosure group, and advertisers gain from the improved outcomes induced by disclosure.”

This suggests that paid advertising creates a positive feedback loop. They find that restaurants that advertise more, have higher ratings because of the implicit signaling of the advertising content (as they say in study, “the act of advertising itself conveys information about quality.”). Consumers flock to higher rated restaurants. The fact that restaurants are higher rated because they advertise (compared to the baseline non-ad group) is the key point. 

Whether it’s a network of local restaurants, or a set of chain stores, paid activation is an important pillar in the brand network.

Learn more about how collaborative advertising™ aggregates multiple forms of content to the benefit of the brand, channel partner, and consumer. Read The Indirect Majority – Why the Future of Social Advertising is Collaborative. 

Is it time for a Scale Evaluation? Let’s Talk About Your Brand’s Paid Presence

Long gone are the days of social media managers being an afterthought. In 2021, every brand and marketing agency recognizes the importance of captivating and converting via social scroll. Though social advertising has matured rapidly in the last 5 years, many brands still believe big picture national or DMA-level social advertising satisfies their goals. What they’re missing is the exponential value delivered by scaled social advertising through channel partners.  

What Makes a Partner?

With the rise of social media, brands have had to shift their traditional marketing methods to adapt to the current media landscape which emphasizes personalization and consumer engagement. Brands of all sizes must factor in the many different partners present when devising their social advertising strategy. Partners vary greatly. They can be bar owners, owned store locations, independent retailers, or even vending machines. Influencers and consultants can also be considered significant brand partners. Really any physical representation of your brand serves as an intermediary for your product and marketing messaging. So really the question is – how is that messaging scaling?

The Difference Between Scaled Advertising and Scaled Activation

Now more than ever, brands are increasingly aware of just how many partners represent them. For example, a large soda brand’s partners range from small convenience stores, big box stores, vending machines, restaurants, and more. Most brands understand that 75% of all sales transactions flow through these intermediaries. Yet brands are still providing their partners antiquated, ineffective tactics to activate consumers. 

Traditional paths to scaled advertising require the consumer to play hide and seek with your brand – finding you deep within coupon books, or on a retailer’s website next to all your competitors. While it’s common for brands to support their partners with paper marketing materials such as signage or in-store displays, rarely does this enablement extend to digital, with the exception of maybe providing creative assets for organic social posting. We hear the flaws of this strategy time and again from brand marketers. 

CONTROL: “We’re sending assets and hope they get posted. Recently, I did an audit and realized the (partners) were not using the right assets in the right channels or even using them at all. They just don’t know about basic marketing.” 

IMPACT: “We’re spending a huge amount of money on traditional brick & mortar trade publications, circulars and typical promotions. We’re seeing our promotional effectiveness reduce year after year after year.” 

SCALE: “We’ve been using national television commercials and on-site print collateral to drive performance for our brand, but we have this gap in between that we need to fill to drive people in the doors of our vast network of independent retailers. We know it’s essential to engage our network because they are really the lifeblood of our business, but how can you do that at scale?”

Collaborative social advertising removes the noise with social ads that tell your brand’s story coupled with your partner’s (where to buy) information to a targeted audience of likely buyers, naturally addressing buyers with their preferred shopping method. The brand typically supplies a high quality creative and the partner provides local input, either by choosing which creative resonates best in their area or inserting their own language into messaging. This creates a potent combination between brand strategy and local influence to create collaborative advertising that drives consumer action

Scaled Social Activation in Action

Scaled collaborative social typically takes the form of one or more of three models, but in each, you see the benefit to both parties, the Brand and the Local Partner. Here’s how each model breaks down. 

Multi-Path Activation (Instant On) 

Brand: Builds, funds & launches complete strategy around each point of sale
Local Partners: Access reporting for their location and benefit from traffic

For example, a beverage company ran hyper-localized Facebook and Instagram social advertising campaigns with the added capability of geo-fencing to specific key markets. This meant that consumers would see ads that upon click-through would always be presented with a controlled set of different retailers they could immediately purchase from. This helped to remove friction and provide a quicker path to purchase for consumers.


      • 40% increased click through rate
      • 80% of clicks resulted in store locator searches
      • 50% lower cost of advertising compared to national efforts

Mutual Collaboration (Local Customization) 

Brand: Develops targeting, creative, budget support, and quick execution tools
Local Partners: Opt-in and customize ads and targeting to reflect their local market. Access reporting for their location and benefit from traffic. 

For example, Tiger Pistol launched a campaign from individual location Facebook Pages highlighting the perfect pairing of a BBQ chain’s food with a global beverage company’s beer brand. 


      • ~40K restaurant visits across the BBQ chain
      • 2x increase in sales of the company’s beer brand
      • 60% Lower cost of advertising than national level efforts

Enable (Effective Advertising, Easily Executed) 

Brand: Provides a brand-safe, turnkey strategy and high power tools for partners looking to leverage digital advertising
Local Partners: Build effective campaigns with world-class technology while only paying for media 

For example, a Fortune 500 real estate services provider enabled their agents to promote their listings on Facebook and Instagram with auto-configured, high-performing campaigns, empowering their agents to localize campaigns at scale. 


      • 450K+ Leads generated
      • 7M+ Clicks through to agent website
      • 21K+ Facebook and Instagram Campaigns run        
      • 55% More cost effective lead campaigns than industry benchmark        
      • 68% more cost effective traffic campaigns than industry benchmark

The beauty of brands supporting campaigns through their partners is that the benefits are shared on both sides: a retailer amplifies its sales, a brand gets more sales and heightened awareness in the local market.

Let’s talk about how your brand can execute a collaborative social advertising program that balances your brand goals with your channel partners’ interests, achieves speed-to-market at a global scale, enhances partner loyalty and satisfaction, and facilitates high-performing campaign implementations which require less effort and produce dramatic results. Contact us today.

White Paper: The Indirect Majority – Why the Future of Social Advertising is Collaborative

75% of global sales occur through indirect channel partners, yet many brands still rely on antiquated and ineffective methods of supporting and leveraging their channel partners. Today, success requires innovation and collaboration to drive local engagement, activation, and sales. Complete with use cases, this white paper demonstrates why offering collaborative social advertising solutions to your network of channel partners will dramatically improve the sales of your products/services, and in doing so, enhance the value and depth of your channel partnerships.

Get the White Paper

Do National Social Campaigns Compete with Local Social Advertising?

We speak with brand marketers all the time who instantly see the value of Facebook at the partner level because it’s truly new audience acquisition. Yet only 2% of the organic Facebook posts your partners make are seen, and even then, they’re only served to people who already liked their Page. Inevitably, the question gets raised,

 “If I offer social advertising to my partners, are their efforts going to compete with my brand-level campaigns where I end up paying more for my national social advertising?” 

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Not only does local social advertising not compete with your national campaigns, but local social advertising is highly complementary to the efforts you’re already doing. In fact, if you’re only running social advertising at the national level, you’re essentially using only half the Facebook platform’s power, exponentially decreasing your opportunity to activate sales in a competitive market. 

National Campaigns Cannot Empower Consumers Fully 

What we see time and time again in national campaigns is the marketer doing an excellent job focusing on and converting shoppers who only want to transact digitally. Consumers add the product to their online cart and do not need assistance or advice to complete their purchase. 

However, for high-touch industries, most shoppers need some type of assistance. For example, a consumer who is new to the Southern suburbs of Chicago, experienced flooding in their basement this June because of the bad storms. Before moving into their new home, the consumer bought the basic home insurance plan from a top insurance provider after seeing a national advertisement. Unfortunately, the basic home insurance package did not cover the basement flooding. The consumer realized that to find a suitable plan they would need to talk with someone directly who had local knowledge and could tell them which plan would protect their home best. Local social campaigns can promote the brand’s local expertise, advertising for the needs of that neighborhood. Local ads build trust in your brand at the community level and direct consumers to a location near them so they can receive advice and complete transactions that align with their individual needs. 

For all industries, local campaigns allow brands to gain access to where their products are sold with their channel partners as the conversion point.  This enables brands to be locally relevant while also creating loyalty with their local channel partners. 

Local Campaigns are Specifically Architected to Prevent Competition with National Efforts

National and local campaigns can be deployed to the same pool of Facebook and Instagram users, so competition will obviously arise, right? Actually, no. Facebook optimizes the two ads (national and local) based on who is most likely to take the desired action (click, view, submit a lead, etc) and the targeting parameters break up any competition for users between campaigns because the users who make up the national targeting are likely different from those who are being targeted locally. 

Moreover, national campaigns have different goals than local campaigns. A national campaign could be focused on overall brand awareness objectives or even direct to consumer engagement, while localized campaigns serve as a direct response, focused and targeted to those who prefer to shop in store or through partner ecommerce sites. Local ads are like connective tissue, they bridge the gap between national campaigns and direct points of sale. With different objectives and different purchase paths, local campaigns can be complementary rather than competition to your national branding efforts. 

Local campaigns allow your brand to focus on the micro markets that often get overlooked by national campaigns. Your brand can leverage what matters at a much more granular level such as who you want to target versus who you don’t want to target. Targeted communication in micro-markets activates both increased and consistent engagement. That’s because Facebook is a community platform, and Facebook rewards ads that are relevant to the community with increased frequency and a discounted budget. 

Local Campaigns Provide Better Consumer Data

Local social campaigns can offer your brand analytics and insights that national campaigns could never give you. For instance, your weekly report found that your national campaign got 100K impressions in the Chicagoland DMA. This is good information, but with local social advertising you can get more granular results: 30K impressions came from Oak Brook, 10K came from Joliet, 50K came from Downers Grove, 5K came from Hinsdale, and 5K came from La Grange. With these localized insights, you can understand where performance happens and control where you allocate your ad spend. 

We can think about this another way. A researcher decides to gather data on the vehicles that drive on the road next to their university. Using two volunteers, the researcher assigns them different tasks, but with the same objective: what cars use this road. Volunteer One is told to count how many cars go by and how many trucks go by in a 10 minute period. Volunteer Two is told to write down the make and model of every vehicle that goes by in a 10 minute period. Who comes back with better data? Who comes back with data that can be used more effectively? Both will collect solid data, yet Volunteer Two will hold data that offers both a macro and micro view of the cars that use the road. 

In a post-iOS world, without third party data cookies driving brand marketers’ insights and longitudinal and latitudinal messages being sent, the very best way for marketers to target audiences will be with micro-campaigns. Otherwise, they will not be able to rely solely on location data. 

Don’t let your brand miss out on this overlooked opportunity to get the most out of your Facebook strategy. Contact us today.  

Academic Study: Collaborative Content Increases Sales Activity

On social media, brands sit at the center of an interconnected network of brand intermediaries, partners, and consumers. The research outlined in this blog reveals that brand awareness, content quality, and consumer interactivity are the primary drivers (or mediators) of latent sales activity within brand networks. Brands that are proactive in establishing connections that empower their intermediaries have an advantage on social when it comes to driving online and offline sales activity with consumers

Regarding customer-level advertising, brands today not only must contend with an ever-fragmented media environment, but also ever-evolving consumer expectations on what constitutes appropriate brand communication by medium. While consumer engagement has emerged as a leading KPI for brand marketers on social, its definition can range from likes to comments to clicks to sales, with the key being return on advertising. An often patient process, the modern social campaign aims to engage and eventually convert to actual sales activity.

This article focuses on academic research that explores the elements of brand content on social media that positively impact business outcomes, most notably quality and relevance in the forms of demographic differentiation and personalization. These elements are achieved through a brand-guided, distributed social advertising program in which the brand provides high-level, quality creative that activates through collaboration with and empowerment of brand intermediaries. 

A recent study in  the Journal of Brand Management, Social Media Brand Engagement in the Context of Collaborative Consumption: The Case of Airbnb, outlines the benefits of collaboration. The notion of synergetic brand communication on social media reflects a more recent shift in industry over the last few years.

The researchers in this study (Schviniski et. al.), a mix of  communication, marketing, and economic professors, examined how Airbnb uses brand-to-consumer collaboration to drive bookings outside of direct transactional frames, where Airbnb resides at the center of a larger network of fractured peer-to-peer communication between intermediaries, using its considerable agency to drive sales. Airbnb’s user base is segmented into different consumer groups. The first group rents properties they own and have an interest in promoting these properties, while the other group comprises consumers who come to the platform to book properties and have an interest in collaborating with other users through reviews. Airbnb and its brand positioning sits at the center of this digital nexus. 

Through Airbnb, the researchers examined how brand equity affects consumer’s online brand-related activities (COBRAs). The researchers utilized a survey and behavioral-based approaches to examine a subset of Airbnb users on social media. Leveraging structural equation modeling (SEM) to place the results into context, they established brand content along two associations: hedonic and functional. 

The researchers note that “functional associations are related to utilitarian, economic, and rational aspects of the brand regarding, for example, reliability, competence, skillfulness, usefulness, and quality.” They define hedonic brand associations as providing “subjective meaning to the brand, encompassing emotional and affective image.” These distinctions are important to unpacking their findings that content “that [is] attractive, desirable, and strong in character and personality directly motivates CBE [Consumer Brand Engagement] behaviors toward Airbnb.” In other words, content that feeds emotional needs drives collaborative consumer brand engagement over content that simply informs. 

“This finding is in line with Kennedy and Guzmán’s (2016) finding that fun is on of the main consumer motivators to co-create, and thus, being a hedonic activity, consumers will place more trust on the information that has been co-created and is found on social media” (Reimer and Benkenstein 2016; Ruiz-Mafe et al. 2018).

That consumers would place more trust in co-created content on social media is an important finding, especially because it drives sharing and co-creation, the heart of collaborative social advertising. Contrasting with functional content, the researcher notes that “functional associations mainly lead to passive forms of CBE [consumer brand engagement] such as reading posts, while main effects on more active forms such as contributing and creating are achieved through hedonic aspects.” When brands are able to promote themselves in hedonic frames, consumer engagement increases, which is perhaps not all that unsurprising. 

It’s Airbnb’s active role in driving consumer activity with this content that gives it sales power. Schviniski et. al. note that, “in order to generate a hedonic brand image, managers should associate brands with other entities (such as people, events and places)” This highlights the importance of intermediaries in distributing brand messaging that’s trusted and valued by consumers in the consideration phase. This strategy speaks to human intuition – a trust in people over entities. In the Airbnb example, reviews on social media are a form of collaborative content that allow both ends of Airbnb’s “consumer base”, that is, the users who come to Airbnb to get bookings for their property, and the consumer who comes to Airbnb to book to interact. Through collaboration, these two groups help drive the Airbnb sales engine on social. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of sorts, Airbnb establishes itself as a trusted place to find verified bookings to fun and exotic places and provides the market with a platform to do so. But it’s made real through the users collaborating, as Schviniski and team conclude:

“If consumers find Airbnb attractive or desirable, they will engage with the brand on social media, actively contributing and helping to co-create Airbnb brand meanings, even if their intentions toward sustaining core transactions are only low influenced.”

Going on to note

“Yet, though functional associations proved to be less relevant in this study, its role in building OBE [Overall Brand Equity, or Brand Awareness] should not be overlooked, particularly considering the need to build a trustful Airbnb brand and ensure that guests will revisit.” (Schivinski, Langaro, Fernandes, 2020)

In a manner of speaking, Airbnb’s brand marketing is what places the reviews and other consumer-facing social content into context. You can’t have a virtuous collaboration across your users and consumers, if you don’t first firmly establish the centrality of your brand as being the genesis of collaboration

Schvininski and team magnify just how closely interconnected the concepts of engagement and brand awareness are. While you may think these findings only lend themselves to brands with user provided and reviewed products, with further interrogation, we actually learn that these findings hold true in other industries, even those that operate in the brick and mortar space. 

Hedonic Frames in Practice

With use of the intermediary (the bar) for publishing, the company facilitates sales by creating a community connection with the consumer versus simply selling product. Additionally, the company strengthens its partnerships with establishments pouring its brands and dramatically lowers its cost of advertising.  Read the Full Case Study

To further underscore the importance of a brand establishing and maintaining control over its core message, check out our blog Academic Research: High Quality Creative Unlocks Consumer Trust and Purchase Intent, where we examine Amal Dabbous and Karine Aoun Barakat’s work Bridging the online offline gap: Assessing the impact of brands’ social network content quality on brand awareness and purchase intention. Pairing these findings with our previous blog – looking at two different industries and independent studies – it is notable the similarities across their findings as it pertains to the centrality of the brand in distributed social advertising.

Learn more about how collaborative advertising™ increases sales activity for the brand and channel partner. Read The Indirect Majority – Why the Future of Social Advertising is Collaborative.