Unilever’s ‘earned impressions’ – how can an impression be social?

Yesterday I finally got round to publishing a long treatise analysing what type of content and engagement works in social media.  Its central point was that most brands end up either ‘doing anti-social’ in front of lots of people with minimal guarantees of success, or else they ‘do social’ in front of small groups of people in a way which doesn’t scale or create any other form of commercial benefit.  I focused on two examples from P&G to illustrate this.

Co-incidentally, the same day Ad Age published this overview of the social / digital strategy of Unilever –  P&G’s greatest rival.  It quotes Babs Rangaiah, Unilever’s digital and media guru as saying, “To get earned media, you need to create great assets in the digital space. The idea is that by creating great earned impressions, you can take from the paid impressions”.

‘Great assets’ – isn’t that just another way of defining one-to-many mass content?  ‘Earned media and impressions’ – how can an impression be social?  To me an earned impression seems like just another definition of viral.

Adapting to social media isn’t about effecting a shift from owned media to earned media, in fact I think earned media is meaningless term.  It is a word like horseless carriage – a term that borrows from the past to label something we don’t yet understand well enough to describe correctly.   The media remains owned, it is just a question of who owns it.  It used to be owned by brands and media institutions, now it is owned by consumers and customers.  It is about a shift from controlled media into participatory media.

Perhaps Unilever’s strategy will function as an effective digital upgrade – but, on first inspection, it doesn’t appear to be a strategy likely to access the real benefits and opportunities available in the social digital space.

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