Love it or hate it - and judging by the sentiment split on social there’s a 50/50 chance that you do - there’s no denying that the show has become a cultural phenomenon. The conversation around the show no longer remains consigned to die-hard reality TV fans who enjoy the heady mixture of sun, sea and strangers engaging in awkward night-vision fumbling. From tabloids to broadsheets people are discussing the latest antics from the villa, who’s grafting, who’s getting mugged and who’s gaslighting who. Even if you’re not watching it you’re likely talking about it (or at least being forced to overhear people talking about how being ‘bevvy’ is not now and never will be a thing).
The latest episode hit a peak of 5.9m viewers with an estimated 57% of these are in the coveted 16-34 age range and with 22% of the audience watching on a screen that isn’t a TV (according to BARB). The opportunity is massive for brands hoping to use the show to reach an incredibly lucrative audience every single night - and one who are already on their devices ready to but. Last year Missguided reported a 40% sales increase every night the show was on. It’s no wonder that Uber Eats spent a reported £5m to replace Superdrug as the show’s main sponsor. This is the largest amount ever paid for a show that isn’t even on the flagship channel. Given their widely reported increase in sales it’s interesting to see that Missguided have walked away and been replaced this year by I Saw It First as the fashion partner. This is possibly not a huge surprise as sentiment toward the show took a turn following the suicide of 2 previous contestants and the increased awareness of the aftercare available for the islanders once they return to real life with a bump.
In fact the show has come under fire on social within the first week of being back on the air when viewers felt like they were watching contestants (yet again) being manipulated with little or no recourse, while ejected contestant Sherif Lanre has suggested that the way producers treated him was not only preferential to the female islanders but also racist. This sort of backlash could prove toxic to a brand looking to benefit from the halo effect of aligning with the biggest show of the summer.
Summer of love
Looking at the conversation around the show itself the results are unsurprising. One week in and the official hashtag had well over 7m uses with an estimated reach of 56.67m. Responding to the behaviour of this year’s crop of singles the audience sentiment is hovering around a worrying 52% negative and while the majority of users are expressing Anticipation and Love for the show this is followed closely Hate and Anger. Drilling into this outpouring of vitriol the key words that jump straight out are ’manipulative’, ‘violation’, ‘rejected’ and ‘miserable’. Not the sort of keywords brands would be racing to be associated with.
But is that the only reason that Missguided allowed ISIF to replace them? We had a look at the percentage of conversation shared across the brands currently sponsoring the show to gauge exactly how much of a bump they’re getting or if they’re getting mugged off.
In fact looking at the 4 main sponsors - I Saw It First, Uber Eats, Samsung and JET2 - being tarnished by the response to the show is not something they need to be worried about. Across the board the negative sentiment does not seem to be having an impact on the sponsors - they all track between 75-95% positive. The real problem is the fact that they are receiving merely a fraction (in the best case 0.2%) of the conversation that the show is.
Lucozade Zero is sponsoring a portion of the show and if you’re surprised to hear it you’re not alone. They are not making a big splash about it and users are as surprised as you are. Perhaps they are focussing instead on their partnership with the Women’s World Cup but they are letting the Love Island opportunity pass them by. Similarly Jet2 are seeing very minimal effect from their sponsorship on social. The show features in only a tiny percentage of the online conversation for the airline and holiday provider - however their overall user sentiment is 82% positive so maybe they’re expecting to see awareness solely from the TV ads leave the memes to the other sponsors.
Samsung phones feature heavily in the show episode to episode (“I’VE GOT A TEXT!”) but they are not seeing a huge uplift in conversation. Rather, while the company and their featured products do not crop up in the discussion between users online ‘Love Island’ appears as a topic when fans talk about Samsung. So instead of the company seeing an uplift in awareness because of the partnership the show is getting more from the brand in terms of social mentions.
Despite throwing down the most money to be associated with the show Uber Eats do not feature prominently in the social conversation at all. The focus on their social feeds is mostly customer service - to be expected for a brand like this - and it’s unclear from their social presences that they are pushing the sponsorship at all. In a way this makes sense - their branded bumpers at the start and end of every ad break that feature the show’s narrator Iain Stirling are giving them mass awareness every single night (although the fatigue of hearing the same jokes over and over has the potential to erode goodwill entirely). That said the fact that other brands are capitalising on the ubiquity of conversation around the show - without having to spend £5m - would suggest that Uber Eats’ strategy of sticking to traditional forms of publicity (TV ads) is a misstep. I’d also question the brand fit of a show that has been criticised for a distinct lack of body-positive diversity in the contestant line-up and a partner whose main offering is eating without the effort; personally watching ripped lads doing nothing but sunbathe and work out (and pull people for chats) whilst I sit at home gorging on takeaway food is not my type on paper.
A little less conversation
This seeming distance between sponsor and show highlights an issue for certain types of brands to gain cut-through on social in these conversations. Uber Eats has a wide offering and 7 nights a week on social needs to not only cater to Love Island fans but also the rest of the country as they arrange their takeaways. They are paying top dollar for the eyeballs of some of the most sought after consumers but with such a broad offering they are unable to zero in on that specific audience at the precise moment where their attention is most focused. This is an issue that I Saw It First are clearly not having - with their hyper-targeted offering and 1-for-1 audience fit with the show - they hardly need to graft at all.
In terms of share of conversation the e-tailer fare the best out of the four sponsors and while part of that is due to the brand/audience alignment the fact that they are wearing (sorry) their partnership on their sleeve. Their social strategy is to adopt the tone of voice of a Love Island fan and live tweet along with users as the drama unfolds. The fact that the Islanders are wearing items available on ISIF gives the brand a key opportunity to push certain products as they appear on screen. Coupling this with a steady stream of show reactions has meant that the company are able to benefit from the show’s popularity and do not seem to have been effected by the public’s reaction - ISIF maintains an positive sentiment score of 97%.
However last year’s sponsor Missguided are currently streets ahead of ISIF in terms of conversation share (157k compared to 14k mentions, 1.92m Reach compared to 478k). This is down to an aggressive social strategy that leaves ISIF in the shade. Perhaps by NOT being officially tied to the show they have the freedom to not only join but lead conversations with user about the show during every episode. They use a rich mix of GIFs, images and unofficial assets and have adopted a tone of voice that allows them to come across a genuine fan. Without the ability to link directly to the outfits from the show they run comps and offers for Missguided gift vouchers during every ad break (something that ISIF and Uber Eats are not capitalising on). Another brand that are forcing themselves into the mix are BooHoo - a company that in the past have provided outfits for Islanders and signed spokesperson deals with past contestants but have never paid to be an official sponsor. Despite this BooHoo appear in the top related topics when searching Love Island and beat out all of the official sponsors (and Missguided) in terms of share of mentions (354k) and reach (2.79m). They are taking a very similar approach to Missguided with competitions in every ad break and reactive posting around every episode while it’s no guarantee that these numbers translate into sales it is what it is in terms of BooHoo’s prominence on social.
By taking even a casual glance at the conversation across the sponsors, ex-sponsors and opportunistic brands aligning themselves with the audience it is hard not to wonder whether brands would be better off taking the record amounts of money it takes to sponsor the show and spend a fraction of it instead on building a robust social strategy. My advice would be to spend instead on resourcing in-house or work with an agency that can nail community management and tone of voice.
Jamie Maple is strategy director at Wilderness