Marketing vs. ROI: Two successful case studies

In an increasingly fast-paced world, brands are constantly trying to be at the centre of the attention and promote themselves. More and more often, brands pursue this goal through the use of irony and Instant Marketing techniques aimed at creating engagement and boosting the virality of content. But do these strategies also generate a good return on investment? In this article, we will examine the strategies of two companies to understand how social engagement generated a ROI.

Irony is one of the main factors that push users to interact with and share content on the web. Therefore, it is not surprising that it is part of the tone of voice of many brands. Sometimes, however, there are marketing and communication strategies that seem – at first glance – to be focused exclusively on generating engagement through funny posts.

Taffo and Oreo are two great examples. Their success on social media is undisputed, but someone could ask the question: “Has this strategy actually generated a return on investment?”. In today’s article we will analyse these two companies and their marketing strategy, to understand what’s behind a simple post and evaluate if there is a successful return on investment.

But first let’s see what ROI is.

ROI – Return on investment

One of the most important phases of a marketing and communication strategy is the evaluation of the performance and the success it has achieved, as it allows to better understand if the resources have been used correctly and to analyse strengths or weaknesses of the strategy.

The concept of return on investment (ROI) is part of this evaluation. But what does ROI refer to? With ROI we mean the ratio between the profits generated by specific marketing and communication activities and the economic resources that have been allocated for these activities. In a nutshell: ROI is the income generated by marketing investments.

But should ROI be calculated for all marketing and communication activities? Yes, although not in the sole exception of calculating profits. Each strategy has a different objective, which is defined according to the needs of the brand that implements it. While every business has the ultimate goal of generating profit, many actions are actually focused on different stages of the customer journey. From creating awareness in potential buyers to assisting them in the post-sales phase to retain them, these activities contribute to generating profit but should be considered in a broader spectrum and not analysed exclusively individually.

Let’s now analyse together the marketing and communication strategies of two renowned brands that have generated a lot of engagement, to understand what the ultimate goal of these strategies is and if they have also generated a return on investment.

The macabre irony of Taffo Funeral Services to create brand awareness

Irony is often the winning strategy when communicating on social media, where users seem more interested in light-hearted content. But is this true also for a company that offers funeral services?

The Italian funeral home Taffo Funeral Services has become quite famous in Italy in recent years for its funny posts on social media and the irreverent tone with which it comments on current events. Analysing the number of likes on posts and social pages, it seems that the success of the communication strategy implemented by Taffo is evident. But some doubts may also arise regarding the actual ROI of this strategy. Is making such jokes about a sensitive issue a good way to attract new customers?

The company began to implement a marketing and communication strategy that was sometimes macabre but always playful and irreverent in 2016. This strategy allowed it to become the emblem of the Italian funeral home sector, but the promotional activities of Taffo actually started much earlier. In fact, the company has been communicating on the internet since 2011 and has previously advertised itself offline through very provocative OOH (Out-Of-Home) campaigns.

It currently has 9 offices scattered throughout the Italian territory. At the time of writing this case study, Taffo’s Facebook page has over 330,000 “likes” – not including those of the pages connected to the local offices of the company – and 136,000 followers on Instagram – with an engagement rate of 4% and about 5,500 likes and 180 comments on average per post.

What are these numbers due to? A careful and researched communication strategy designed to reach a very wide audience, not just the target one. Let’s see specifically how Taffo achieved this success.

The reasons for Taffo’s success on social media

Through a careful real-time marketing strategy, Taffo has managed to exploit the ability of social networks to make a content go viral, promoting resharing and word-of-mouth that allowed it to reach a decidedly large audience. The strengths of Taffo’s social strategy are, in fact, creativity and timing. At each national (but also international) event that generates buzz, Taffo immediately creates posts to bring attention to its brand in an ironic way.

A social post containing the image of some coffins
A typical post by Taffo: in this one it invites the people NOT to get the Covid-19 vaccine, as the brand is willingly and ready to face the consequences.

A typical post by Taffo: in this one it invites the people NOT to get the Covid-19 vaccine, as the brand is willingly and ready to face the consequences.

According to Riccardo Pirrone, Taffo’s social media manager, this real time marketing strategy is very successful as a branding activity because it is possible to reach millions of people throughout Italy and also abroad through a single post, which “generates numbers that before could only be reached through television marketing, but at a very low cost”. Furthermore, recently Taffo has partially retraced its steps by implementing off-line strategies again and collaborating with other brands, in order to further expand the presence of its brand also outside social media and the internet in general.

The company claims that it evaluates each situation that could be exploited, in order to decide if it is appropriate to do so and how to do it. As a matter of fact, it has happened that Taffo has imposed itself some limits: the company treats death as a general and universal topic but does not make fun of people and the dead. Pirrone himself gives a practical example: “We do not make ironic and funny posts on days like Grandparents’ Day, Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, because maybe someone can suffer for the loss of one of these people”.

Not just irony, but also SEO and consciousness

Having said that, it is still true that the delicate topic dealt with by Taffo and the irreverent tone used by the company could offend the sensitivity of users and have the opposite effect of driving away potential customers who do not perceive in Taffo the seriousness required in such a dramatic moment as the death of a loved one. There may be also some doubts about the effective ROI of the strategy. Fun and viral content is not always enough to push a consumer to turn to the brand that created that particular content.

Taffo itself is also aware of these objections, and it highlights how brand awareness itself does not generate a turnover. Consequently, Taffo’s strategy does not rely on this aspect also. The communication on social media is, in fact, made of various types of posts:

  • Posts that take advantage of real time marketing;
  • Posts covering corporate topics and general information;
  • Posts aimed at increasing engagement;
  • Posts with campaigns aimed at raising awareness.

Taffo is also often referred to by sources outside social media, such as websites and newspapers. So, the company site gets a lot of quality backlinks (we ourselves added a link to Taffo’s webpage in this article) which allow for a good ranking on search engines.

In addition, there is also a blog on Taffo’s website. It would not be surprising, given the importance that blogs have in an SEO perspective. But the peculiarity is that the communication style is diametrically opposite to that used in social media posts. Funeral services and death are dealt with through articles with a very professional and exhaustive content and form.

This could be due to the desire to present itself as a funeral home that also knows how to be respectful and professional in times of need. If a post by Taffo could be viewed by users at any time, the blog is showed when its content matches the user’s query and – given the nature of the services offered by Taffo – it is likely that users are looking for that content when they really need it.

Taffo’s ROI

The strategy used by Taffo allowed it to gain visibility and popularity, an aspect that proved to be very useful for raking on search engines and being found by users when they actually need the services offered by the brand. But has this marketing and communication strategy generated an increase in turnover? Is the return on investment of Taffo Funeral Services positive?

Although Taffo ended 2016, the year in which it began to implement its communication strategy, with a decrease in revenues of about 40% compared to 2013 and of about 25% compared to 2014, in 2017 the turnover increased instead by about 10% compared to the aforementioned two-year period, with the share capital remaining unchanged. In 2019 it had a turnover of 5.54 million euros, recording a further 20% growth compared to the previous year. In addition, thanks to its popularity, Taffo also collaborates with other brands and this allows the company to generate alternative sources of income.

Oreo: promoting some products to increase awareness and sell others

Oreo is an established brand of cookies and sweets that has been operating for over 100 years all over the world. There are 85 different flavours, from the classic chocolate biscuit to lemon tea or spicy chicken wings flavoured cookies. Oreo always maintains a very ironic and light-hearted tone of voice, both on social media and in other promotional activities, often involving other brands or public personalities on the occasion of important events. For example, on the occasion of the release of Chromatica, the latest album by pop singer Lady Gaga, Oreo launched a 24-hour treasure hunt to find a salmon-pink Oreo. In 2020, when an asteroid passed “close” to Earth, Oreo announced the construction of a cemented bunker in Norway to protect its precious recipes and the finest biscuits.

Oreo's bunker in Norway

But one of the most famous (and successful, at least according to vanity metrics) instant marketing posts is the one made during the 2013 SuperBowl, which was interrupted for about half an hour because of a blackout.

By quickly leveraging creativity to transform an exceptional event into a way to shine a light on the brand (no pun intended), Oreo reached 10,000 shares on Twitter alone in a few hours, achieving high exposure at a very low cost.

Another example of a successful collaboration is the one created with the streetwear brand Supreme. Leveraging the reputation of a brand known for making garments in small quantities, Oreo launched a limited edition of a red biscuit, which was even auctioned on E-Bay for over $ 10,000.

Many flavours, one single objective

Unlike Taffo Funeral Services, which focuses almost exclusively on brand awareness activities, Oreo has also launched multiple promotional campaigns for specific products. As we said at the beginning of the chapter, Oreo cookies come in different flavours. As a matter of fact, the brand periodically releases new ones, some exclusively in certain countries – such as green tea Oreos in Japan and China. But there are also the special and limited editions, such as the one dedicated to the 8th and final season of the TV show Game of Thrones – which featured the faces of the characters on both sides of the cookie – or the one dedicated to Team USA to celebrate the Olympics in Tokyo which took place last summer.

Each of these new flavours and limited editions are announced on the company’s social media channels. But why does Oreo keep releasing new versions of their cookies? Marketer Charu Dwivedi suggests that the brand is exploiting the Flywheel effect: by promoting specific products, Oreo actually pursues a broader strategy with the aim of generating constant attention towards the brand and stimulating customer reaction. The launch of a new limited-edition product, instant marketing posts and TV commercials all combine to create brand awareness. It does not matter if the single product won’t sell well, because thanks to it, other products and the Oreo brand will still thrive.

Oreo’s ROI

Nielsen reports that in the three-year period 2018-2020, sales of the new versions of Oreo increased by 12%, while those of classic biscuits by 22%. According to these data, it seems that the launch of a new product have the secondary effect of increasing sales of the classic flavours as well. This is confirmed by Oreo’s senior director, Justin Parnell: “When our marketing campaigns are successful, even the classic biscuit performs very well, because consumers remember our brand and buy both versions”.

Conclusions: the importance of planning

Despite operating in completely different industrial sectors, both brands examined in this article have managed to generate a good return on investment thanks to well-planned marketing and communication strategies.

As we have seen, the single marketing activities have been implemented with others, in order not to focus exclusively on brand awareness or on a single product, but rather to expand the objectives. The funeral home Taffo uses irony for instant marketing activities that have allowed it to increase the number of followers on social media and become famous throughout the country, opening new agencies and establishing new partnerships. Oreo, on the other hand, uses its communication to promote new flavours and versions of its cookies, but with the aim of generating interest and increasing the sales of classic cookies.

Although many posts are created right after a particular event, the strategy behind all this is actually the result of a careful study and target analysis. Because even improvisation requires a minimum of preparation.

Contact us to learn about our consulting services and develop a careful marketing and communication strategy together.

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Marketing enthusiast, bachelor’s in linguistic sciences for media and communication at Catholic University in Milan and then MSc Media Management at University of Stirling. Thanks to my academic background, I am now working my dream job: I manage communication and marketing strategies for EOS and the ipcm® magazines. In my free time I play basketball and watch lots of films. Favourite team: Milwaukee Bucks. Favourite director: David Lynch.

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