Tagged: advertising

Don’t blame Facebook: it is simply killing what was always a stupid idea

Let’s be honest.  Using a brand Facebook page to reach your consumer audience was always a stupid idea.  Organic reach, as it is now called, has always been a waste of time.  It hasn’t been Facebook and its actions over time which has made it so.  By finally making Facebook a pay-to-pay venue, Facebook has simply done the decent thing and killed something that should never have been brought to life in the first place.

Now Facebook’s motives for doing this can be questioned.  They say it is to improve the user experience, I say it is to improve the shareholder experience – but that is a subject for a whole new (old) post.

Facebook has form in this respect.  When it introduced Timeline a few years back it killed off the idea that the objective for brands was to try and make your Facebook page look like your website.  Do you remember that time?  We even had respected digital consultancies lauding those brands that had overcome the ‘static format’ of Facebook in order to create ‘brilliant’ Facebook pages.  I guess the logic went like this: here is this thing called Facebook which we don’t really understand.  Here is this thing called a website which we do understand.  Make our Facebook page look like our website and ‘hey prestos’ we can therefore understand Facebook.  Stupid, but none-the-less a lot of digital agencies made a lot of money helping brands do this – so not so stupid from someone’s perspective I guess.

Again, Facebook said it did this to allow users to tell and record their life stories within Facebook.  I say they did that to encourage users to input more data into Facebook – but that is the subject for a whole new (old) post.

Social media is not a space where audiences naturally exist.  Creating audiences in social media is always going to be a fruitless task.  Engagement rates with brand Facebook pages have always been miniscule, expressed as a percentage of your total ‘target’ audience (this dates back way before Facebook started making it difficult to create ‘engagement’ with ‘organic’ posts).  Social media is not a medium of distribution, it is a medium of connection.  The name of the game is not channel and message / reach and frequency – it is about behaviour identification and response.  The world of social media is a world of the individual, not a world of the audience.  Traditional media is a high reach but low engagement space, social media is a low reach but high engagement space.  You can only use social media effectively to deal with very small numbers of people at any one time, but the value you can (must) create from these contacts therefore has to an order of magnitude greater than that when all you were doing was pushing content at them.  This has been the subject for a whole old blog.

So don’t blame Facebook for finally killing your organic Facebook engagement content brandfill nonsense strategy.  Facebook is simply doing you a favour.

Advertising is just a big, pink, inflatable, pointy finger

2014-10-10 10.16.29I spent two days last week on the Slovenian ‘Riveriera’ attending the Golden Drums International Advertising Festival (basically Cannes, but for eastern Europe). Slovenia has almost no coastline and therefore appears to have turned all of it into the edge of one gigantic Adriatic swimming pool, complete with chrome steps and handrails, interspersed with a couple of pretty fishing villages. You can almost hear the tourism pitch idea now, “hey, this is not much as a coastline, but as a swimming pool it could be pretty impressive!”

These events are always interesting to see how the practice of creativity and the practice of marketing are currently entwined. Two things stood out for me. First was the familiar problem of category confusion. It was impossible to put most of the best ideas in any one category. For example, there was an idea for the Belgrade State Theatre (I think) which placed actors as drivers in taxis wired up with hidden cameras. In true taxi driver style, the drivers began a tale of lament about their lives, drawing the passengers into the narrative. At the end of the journey they then reveal their true identity and that the story was actually the plot of a Shakespeare play, currently playing at their theatre. Very funny to watch (in the show reel) especially once you were wise to the format and were trying to identify the play.

But the problem was that this ‘event’ was forced into the category of film (because it was filmed) and sat there alongside conventional 30 second ads. However, the event wasn’t in any way a conventional ad. In fact it became compromised by the requirement to render it into the restrictive frame required to create something that can sit in paid-for TV space and that is seen a number of times by a ‘target consumer’. It worked as a show reel (but consumers never get to see the show reel) or it worked if you could get consumers out of expensive advertising space, to a space (i.e. YouTube) where you had sufficient time to tell, or even interact with, the stories properly.

This leads to the second problem – one of scale. Most of the best ideas were small scale ideas, or rather ideas which were not naturally adapted to working at large scale. This was either because, as in the case of the theatre example, it was difficult to fit them into a distribution medium which would give them scale (i.e. a TV ad) or because their strength was in their relevance – often local or cultural relevance – which by definition has limited scale. The most decorated agency on the night was an independent Russian agency called Voskhod. Their stand-out ideas (i.e. the ones I can remember) were all small scale. Actually, they were all PR ideas. For example, they created a poster for a local steak restaurant that featured a picture of a raw steak. One night they ‘grilled’ the steak by actually burning strips into the poster. Result – the restaurant was booked out the following week. And they did a campaign which linked an up-and-coming band with a single fashion shop. Very geographically and culturally specific stuff. And this stuff is the anti-thesis of the generic, international campaign that forms the bread and butter of most big brands and major agency networks. An impending problem there me-thinks.

Of course all of these ideas were surrounded by clouds of ‘social media’ – i.e everything was YouTubed, Facebooked, Tweeted etc. etc. In fact, these ideas lived much more comfortably in social media than in traditional media. But social media isn’t a channel. Just because something is ‘in’ social media, doesn’t mean it actually goes anywhere – unless you then invest significant time and effort driving people to that social space. Which perhaps provides a clue to the future of advertising and creativity. As I have posted previously, one of the principal consequences for brands and creativity of the social media revolution (which is the separation of information from distribution) is the separation of creativity from the means of delivery. Ideas have to sit above any particular delivery channel. Ideas have to define the channels, rather than be defined by the channels.

The channels themselves only have relevance in-so-far as they have a specific purpose and quite possibly the purpose of advertising in the future is not to actually carry, or even illustrate, brand ideas, but simply to be the big, pink, inflatable finger which points at brand ideas. Advertising is a distribution medium, so that is what it should focus on – bringing attention (scale) to an idea which lives in a (social) space which doesn’t naturally have scale attached to it. And these ideas will in most instance have a degree of specific geographical or cultural relevance that, even with advertising attached, will limit their ability to achieve international scale. It also points to what I have previously talked about, which is that the challenge for brands is to convene an audience, not to target it.

The overall winning idea came from Romania, and it involved connecting a young, relatively photogenic shepherd to the internet via a smart phone, thus allowing him to share his life with the world (or at least that bit of the world which might be interested). Quite a lot of people (in Romania) were interested as it turned out and said shepherd became an ‘internet celebrity’. I think this says more about Romania than it does for the practice of marketing generally. One thing is for sure, we are not going to be handing out awards for this type of thing in five years’ time (except perhaps in Turkmenistan). The brand was Vodafone. Although it could have been almost any mobile network, technology or sheep-related brand.

images_iman_highres__mg_7473Or it could have been Coca-Cola, since pretty much anything can be a ‘Coca-Cola story’ in these halcyon days where the focus has shifted from creative excellence to content excellence.  This, incidentally is what I was there to talk about – our obsession with content marketing, otherwise known as brandfill.  Here I am, in action.  I think I will use this as my new social profile pic, since it pretty much sums up my professional life – waving my hands around telling people what not to do.

There was also one other stand-out. What is it with creatives, beards and jackets which are at least one size too small?

The great thing about advertising is that no-one takes it personally

The great thing about advertising is that no-one takes it personally.  This is not a criticism or prelude to a lament about how advertising is now redundant – it is not.  The very greatest advertising, like any performance or show, creates a sense of audience participation: the viewers experience a sense of collective engagement with the ad and (usually but not always) the brand that lies behind it.  Critically, they also receive assurance that the brand is popular and successful and that, as a consumer, they are not alone.  An audience is a necessary part of the performance that is advertising.  It is a bit like a rock concert.  If you are a Coldplay fan you want to see the band perform and be together with your fellow devotees watching Chris Martin in all his pomp whilst holding aloft your electronic gizmo thingy that apparently now come supplied as alternatives to cigarette lighters at all Coldplay gigs.  If you were the only person standing in the arena it wouldn’t be the same thing.  In fact you would probably be tempted to tell Chris to give it a rest and jump down off the stage and have a beer and a chat.

And herein lies the problem for advertising and social media, especially any social media platform whose revenue model is dependent on advertising.  The great promise that social media dangles in front of advertising is targeting, but the issue with targeting is that after a while, you narrow things down to the point where you stop having a group large enough to constitute an audience and end up with a group of individuals. The sense of participation is gone.  In effect you cross over a form of social digital divide beyond which people don’t want to be part of a crowd, they want to take things personally.  And by definition, advertising or any other form of one-to-many mass communication is not going to work on this side of the divide.  You are in a place where people want information (or conversation), not performance.

This doesn’t herald the end of advertising or other forms of one-to-many marketing campaigns.  People will still want brands to perform and find ways of reassuring consumers that they are not alone.  In fact, it is probably this latter function, the reassurance of statute and success, that will become the primary function of advertising and marketing campaigns in the future – a return to the days of the “as seen on TV” reassurance.  The only problem for ad agencies is that this is now not the only thing brands need to do, thus the only thing that is failing is the business model that currently lies behind the supply of advertising, not the form itself.  In many ways, social media could be the saviour of advertising.  It will liberate creatives to deliver what it is that advertising does best – a brand show freed from extraneous information baggage.  It is just that they can’t expect to earn quite so much money doing it.


How do you regulate social media? Do you regulate social media?

Last week I had an interesting experience, presenting at a workshop on regulating digital media.  (My presentation is here, for those interested).

The folks attending were, in large part, those to whom Government (in its various iterations) has decided it falls to Do Something about the regulation of social media.  However the real problem they have, as I saw it, is that the current model of regulation just doesn’t work in social media.  This is because the current model relies on the fact that information is always married to an institutionalised means of distribution and this means of distribution is both the dominant partner in this relationship and can be regulated.  However, social media is all about the liberation of information from a particular means of distribution and therefore the means of distribution (the media) has ceased to be a gatekeeper through which we can control information.

Here is an example, drawn from some of the case studies discussed.  A nightclub in Belgium was running a party called French Kiss.  Continue reading

The future of advertising, media and Facebook (in Bulgaria)

A couple of weeks ago I was in Sofia, Bulgaria, to run a workshop and speak and the annual gathering of advertising and media folk, organised by the Bulgarian Assosication of Advertising Agencies.  I was doing this wearing my hat as a member of the faculty of the EACA School of Advertising and Communications.  Essentially I was there to explain, as politely as possible, that the business model of advertising is broken.  (Here is the presentation for those interested – it will make only vague sense since it is mostly just a collection of images Sofia 22 March 2011)

In the run-up to this I was also asked to answer some questions about the future of advertising, traditional media and Facebook for the online publication Human Capital.  Here are the answers – for those who speak Bulgarian, but I thought I would also publish them here in English, since it is relevant to advertising and media everywhere, not just in Bulgaria.

What are the major differences between traditional media and social media from advertisers’ perspective?

Continue reading

Ad agency + social media = car crash in slow motion

Here is an excellent article that highlights one of the classic mistakes of social media.  This is the assumption that social media is just another channel you can use to reach a consumer, rather than a channel that consumers use to reach you.  This results in the misplaced belief that an ad agency, or even traditional digital agency, can therefore “do” social media.  They can’t – because their expertise and business model is rooted in the world of the 0ne-to-many mass message.

I suspect the Toyota example referred to in this article will be a painfull thing to watch play out – for all the reasons the article highlights.

The big question is this:  how many organisations are going to engineer these sorts of car crashes before they wake up to what social media is all about?  Quite a lot I would suspect.

In the meatime – I would suggest the following precautionary principle – never, ever, let an ad agency, or media agency anywhere near a social media initiative.  And also take special care when asking a digital agency to get involved – simply because digital agencies make money selling web sites / platforms / digital places.  The whole point of social media is to get out of digital places and operate in digital spaces (conversations).  Note – this particular car crash I spotted a while back was created by a digital agency, also for an automotive client.

Google v Facebook is a battle for today’s internet, not the internet of the future

Wired has just published an excellent article on the battle between Facebook and Google.  It covers the key issues concisely and is well worth a read.

However, I think both companies (and possibly Wired) are wrong to think that this is a battle for future of the internet.  Instead it is a battle for today’s internet.  In my view neither Google nor Facebook will win the battle for the future of the internet because both are fighting in the wrong space.  Both organisations are basing their strategies on the assumption that the future lies in an ad-driven, data capture, real estate model of the internet – and this is a 1.0, traditional institutionalised communications model.

Advertising is a creation of the world of traditional institutionalised information.  No one is suggesting that advertising is still not incredibly important – but it is a pot that is shrinking as distribution-based communication itself shrinks.  And while some of it is moving on-line, the on-line opportunity is never going to be as big as the current total pot and ultimately will disappear altogether.

Here’s why.  Continue reading

The advertising industry – delusional in the face of adversity

The IPA and the Future Foundation has just released a report of the future of advertising in the light of the growth of social media.  The summary is worth a read not so much for what it says, but the way it reveals the essentially delusional assumption that there is even a remote possibility  that the advertising industry could ever get to grips with social media.  An assumption presumably endorsed by the IPA and shared by the industry as a whole. Continue reading