Meet the new media, same as the old media

December 15, 2008 at 10:09 PM 1 comment

play defense goddamnit

I must be out of market or not watching enough college ball because I’ve never seen this ad on TV. How much do you think it would cost to get Bobby for a birthday party?

There’s a marginally interesting article in today’s New York Times about the struggles that brand advertisers face in working with social networks. It focuses on Proctor & Gamble’s strained relationship with Facebook, but the crux of the argument is thus:

When major brands place banner advertisements on the side of a member’s home page, they pay inexpensive prices, but the ads receive little attention. Seth Goldstein, co-founder of SocialMedia Networks, an online advertising company, wrote on his Facebook blog that a banner ad “is universally disregarded as irrelevant if it’s not ignored entirely.”

When advertisers invite members to come to pages dedicated to their products, they can attract visitors only by investing in expensive creative material or old-fashioned promotions like prize contests.

And when they try to take advantage of new “social advertising,” extending their commercial message to a member’s friends, their ads will be noticed, all right, but not necessarily favorably. Members are understandably reluctant to become shills. IDC, the technology research firm, published a study last month that reported that just 3 percent of Internet users in the United States would willingly let publishers use their friends for advertising. The report described social advertising as “stillborn.”

I know, you’re as shocked as I am. “Stillborn”? I chuckled, and that’s exactly why I know that kind of language is completely inappropriate. But seriously, why is this news? What kind of person reads this hard-hitting report and has their mind changed rather than their suspicions confirmed? My boss’s boss’s boss, that’s who.

Like a lot of you, I work with a sizable contingent of people who are completely divorced from the reality of being a middle class consumer even though they in fact are exactly that, people who think their particular company or sector is the exception rather than the rule, people who are foolish enough to think that if they care enough they can make other people care too. This thought disease is the fuel that powers the marketing and advertising business today. But you’ll hardly ever see any Times articles on how hard it is to create a successful TV or print campaign because the metrics for tracking these are no where near as precise as the metrics for tracking internet campaigns. When companies ran a campaign on a medium half a century old and got a hazy post-mortem and now run a campaign on a relatively new medium and get a brutally empirical post-mortem, it isn’t hard to imagine why some executives are so skeptical about new media. Their old media campaigns can be just as ineffective but the inconclusiveness of the data they get back makes it easy for them embellish a bit and imagine success where there is none.

Might I posit that the following be considered an axiom of marketing: all commercial messages are universally disregarded as irrelevant if they are not ignored entirely. Perhaps this is a personal tick or something, but I’m convinced that every ad produces some level of negative brand association just out of the simple fact that every ad is an interruption or intrusion and that’s just plain rude. I’m very popular around the office. Theories aside, when it comes down to brass tacks, which is a bigger waste of money: Figure 1 or Figure 2?

Seth Goldstein is right that banner ads are ignored but he and scores of other marketers are convinced that they can create something different, that somewhere in the muckymuck there is a way to do it right, and maybe it has to do with privacy and engagement and creating “real conversation and interaction around certain products and brands”. In his own words: “We don’t get paid to put you in ads. We’re getting paid to present you with the opportunity to interact with a product socially.”

Except that real people don’t do that. At all. I’m too busy pirating DVDs, reading comics and trying to get laid to care about your brand. Intelligent people with disposable income don’t waste time using mini-apps to do the same thing that the macro-app (Facebook, or the internet at large, telephone) can do far better and less fundamentally dickwadishly. Seth’s products hinge on the bet that if I see a little message on Facebook that Hotrod Johnny is washing his denim jacket with Tide presently, I will somehow be more likely to buy a bottle of Tide or have a positive association with the brand than if I were shown a traditional display ad. And what he’s really hoping is that I’ll write back to Johnny, “Hey dude, that’s awesome! I just washed my daisy dukes with Tide yesterday. Let’s fornicate.” Which is rubbish, quite frankly, because it’s going to take a lot more than spring-fresh outerwear to get me to even remotely consider committing a homosexual act. A display ad I can ignore and move on with my day, but I really liked Hotrod Johnny and now here he is shilling out Tide to me. Now I’m disenchanted with Facebook, I’m really adverse to not just Tide but laundry in general, and I’m beginning to reconsider whether I should even try to have sex with Hotrod Johnny at all if he’s gonna be a tool like that. There is a very short list of consumer items that my friends and I will ever bring up in normal conversation (in order of frequency): booze, Apple products, video games, bike parts, and contraception. I don’t need your widgety-woo to facilitate that interaction and, believe you me, you want no part in that conversation either.

On the flip side of this filth coin, consider what brands really want. In a rare exception to the rule, people do have real conversations about the Apple brand and its products. If Samsung is interested in competing with the iPhone, do they want people to update little status messages and hope other people pay attention or do they want to generate real word of mouth about their handset? One kind of “conversation” can be facilitated with a widgety-woo. The other kind that actually moves units only comes from making an awesome phone and getting David Pogue to write about it. Does anyone really think Apple would sell any fewer iPhones if they pulled their ads? Might I suggest that Samsung concentrate on manufacturing such a device and Proctor & Gamble simply come to terms with the fact that no one cares about their brands because detergent is boring as all fuck.

The bottom line is that advertising as we know it is a dead paradigm that has yet to be replaced, and in this writer’s opinion, may not be replaced at all. There is such an overabundance of things to buy and information on why or why not one should that we all can make important and mundane purchasing decisions with relative ease and little interest. But more importantly, we as a culture have become so inured to self-promotion in all its guises, including the much-ballyhooed “social interaction” as advertisement, that these messages no longer register. In the worlds of products and brands, there will always be peacocks and pigeons. In marketing, just as with human interaction, there is a clear distinction between those who make fools of themselves at parties by shouting obnoxiously and those who can hold a good conversation. And then there are those boring dudes who have nothing interesting or obnoxious to say because they’re accountants or something so they just stand in the corner and sip their beers like effete turds, holding the bottle by the neck and dribbling on their collars. Above all, it’s always easy to spot those who are inappropriately muscling themselves into the conversation and they are so not getting laid tonight. The best thing marketers can do is make a good offer for a good product at a good price and hope it sticks.

Yes, as a new media developer myself, I realize that this evangel isn’t quite in keeping with my self-preservation, but that’s probably why talk of this sort isn’t given much of a voice in the industry itself, and that’s why this piece in the Times might be valuable. Marketing professionals are usually louder cheerleaders for tech innovations than their engineers. But when the interactive marketing manager at the world’s biggest ad-spender publicly states he’s disinterested in working with the world’s biggest social network and unenthusiastic about behavioral targeting, one has to wonder what he is enthusiastic about. Is Ted McConnell a unique outlier in an industry of confident marketers or the first rat to scurry from the sinking ship? Either way, he deserves a Facebook poke for being so candid; I doubt his recent remarks are making him any new friends.

-Posted by RussellMania3000

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Entry filed under: advertising, media. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

Chick Lit Got the look

1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. Linda  |  December 22, 2008 at 1:25 AM

    The asshole inappropriately muscling his way into the conversation at the party? He does get laid. Maybe not by the gender studies major in vintage and welfare glasses, but that’s only a maybe. (She’s probably sleeping with some other seemingly charming asshole.)

    Like you, I’m pretty well aware of when I’m being marketed to, and after a long day the number and the invasiveness of adverts on my journey home and on my computer screen can make me feel some combination of dizzy and nauseous and overwhelmed and furious… but sadly I also know their bullshit is still seeping into my skull. In my experience it takes enormous energy to ignore all that noise or to be able to see it but outright reject it. I’m not convinced all commercial messages are irrelevant just yet.

    Reply

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