Go Sanjaya! (And Mapping Mental Associations In The Blogosphere)


Have you ever wondered what consumer sentiment and mental associations look like among members of a distributed community of stakeholders? That question is on the ephemeral side. However, it’s an important one marketers should be asking constantly, relative to their own brands, competitors and categories. In that spirit, I’d like to share an analysis on reality television show American Idol, and Sanjaya Malakar, the less-than-steller contestant who can’t seem to get voted off. My team at Nielsen BuzzMetrics worked on this recently.


Above is the The Brand Association Map, which begins with a predefined sample of online discussion posts. Then algorithms identify the most associated words and phrases relative to a predefined keyword, in this case, “Sanjaya.” The tool then charts those words and phrases in concentric circles based on the degree of association. The closer words and phrases are to the bull’s eye, or primary predefined keyword, the higher the association. Words and phrases which extend along the same ray paths also are associated. Without getting to technical, the algorithm factors in proximity, frequency and relevance of keywords, while negating out noise words.

With this visualization, which included all American Idol blog discussion between March 19 and 30, 2007, we determined that:

  • Sanjaya Malakar, one of the last remaining contestants, has few positive attributes.
  • Howard Stern and Vote for the Worst, were as closely associated to Sanjaya as American Idol, suggesting the two campaigns are supporting Sanjaya’s notoriety.
  • Many bloggers agree that Sanjaya lacks talent and does not belong among the top contestants. Many fans think Sanjaya is making a “mockery” of the contest and believe it would be downright “wrong” if he won.
  • Beauty care companies are receiving an unsolicited, free dividend in viewer engagement around “hair” – as Sanjaya’s hairdo is among the most associated topics.

For marketers, such analysis and visualization of unprompted, natural consumer expression can achieve three important objectives: First, it identifies gaps between marketer’s ideals of how customers think about their brands, and how customers really think about those brands. Secondly, the map can quickly demonstrate relationships (or lack thereof) which are directionally insightful and present critical brand questions that marketers may have never dreamed of asking in the first place; it can suggest where to probe. Third, the map is visually stimulating and intuitive, and therefore has the power to captivate and effectively communicate data not only to the statistically astute, but to organizational stakeholders who either are only interested in the summary view (i.e., busy CEOs), or just won’t or can’t translate numbers.

Back to Sanjaya, here are further highlights from the analysis, instead focusing on blog volume trends:


  • Blog references to “Sanjaya Malakar” skyrocketed 338% the week ending April 8, 2007 versus week ending February 18, 2007, when he first reached critical mass.
  • Sanjaya fever has reached such idyllic status that bloggers now refer to him primarily by his first name only, by a factor of three to one, with references to “Sanjaya” spiking 11-fold.
  • Reality TV Magazine, Rickey.org, cityrag and Defamer are among the most influential blogs covering Sanjaya, based on the volume of other blogs discussing Sanjaya, and linking in since January 1, 2007.

Go Sanjaya! You gotta love his smile and wink!

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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