Why Brands Waste so Much Money on Social Media

Why Brands Waste so Much Money on Social Media

Results of a Facebook campaign:

The total reach = 8212 people. 1498 organic, 6714 paid. 463 ‘Likes’ and 32 people ‘Shared’.

Client response:

“Results are particularly strong in comparison to many of our other advertisements, and suggest that this advertisement was generally very well received and seen by the broader audience as it was intended”.

When did an audience of one three hundredth of one percent of the total population become “particularly strong?” I can offend more people than that in a week. Or I could walk around the city in Sydney with a sandwich board and clock up a similar audience.

Bottom line, whether an ad or a Facebook page, the bar is set very low for the number of people impacted. And no amount of “amplification” can bring the audience numbers up to what would be expected of a “medium” that every person and their dog (literally) is connected to.

No argument that social media has permeated every aspect of our lives and been one the most impactful and far reaching phenomena in history. But we are in advertising, not social science. The land line telephone reached billions and all it gave us was telemarketing (and market research, for which social media is also excellent).

It has been the elephant in the room for quite a number of years now – “What does a social media presence really achieve for a brand?” Please note, this is an entirely different issue to people using social media to talk about a brand, good or bad.

Finally, someone has said publicly what many must have been thinking. Professor Mark Ritson, (Melbourne Business School) has a presentation. It is a cold, hard and rational analysis of social media, as opposed to the emotive theories pushed by its supporters.
I sent Ritson’s presentation to “the other trade magazine” and they asked to interview me as part of a special feature on the question of social media effectiveness.

The feature went a long way to answering my question about that bloody elephant. The first question – “Do you think the numbers are accurate?” The numbers quoted were media ratings and analytics used every day i.e. they have been staring us all in the face but no one has questioned their implications. (At least so publicly and in such a challenging manner).

I started my career as a mathematician, though it didn’t take a degree in pure and statistical mathematics to pass judgement. It was all very basic and straight forward.

Rather than investigative journalism, in was an advocacy piece. There was not an equal number of “for” and “against” professionals interviewed. In fact, all of the people interviewed were in the “for camp”. The “feature” was in essence a platform for those who disagreed with Ritson’s conclusions.

What really stood out was that not one of the people interviewed in the article specifically addressed any of Ritson’s conclusions and put forward any facts that countered his claims. They were emotive responses to questions about facts.

One great myth exploding example Ritson gave was the Oreo tweet, during the 2013 Super Bowl blackout. Described as “The tweet heard around the world.”, “Oreo wins the Super Bowl” and “The best and most impactful thing in the Super Bowl”, this Oreo tweet has been used since as an example of what social media can achieve.

The irony was that more people would have seen the praise then the number of people who saw the full tweet – around 65,500 people. Yet the Budweiser TVC, also in the 2013 Super Bowl, had 50 million viewers. As Ritson said “On what f….ing planet does 65,500 beat 50 million?”

The ad industry went nuts over the tweet, even though only 0.02% of the Oreo customer base saw the full tweet. It had zero impact amongst the people who mattered – existing and potential buyers of Oreos. But the industry talked it up as one of the great initiatives of the digital era.

A recent study by the California State University may help to explain the high level of emotion within the social media debate. (Seriously). Social media sites stimulate the amygdala and striatum. These are the sites of the brain linked to compulsive behaviour. Facebook fans get a “brain reward”, as it stimulates a sense of social inclusion. Cocaine users get a similar buzz.

The Mad Men days are long gone. No longer is our industry seen as a place for party animals and cokeheads. But replacing a line of coke with a Facebook post?

In advertising we have always known that emotion sells. Yes, social media is huge. Billions use it and use it every day. It can unite people behind a particular cause, good or bad. Logically, any advertiser would lust after the massive numbers that social media seems to offer. And the people in both agencies and clients responsible for social media are all heavy users and great believes in the power of social media.

But its strengths are also its weaknesses. Due to the incredible power of social media in so many areas, proponents understandably have very strong emotional bonds with it.

Anthropomorphism is when human emotions are used to explain animal behaviour. Anthropomorphism is now occurring in marketing and communications. Brands take on a social media presence as if they are a person. Consequently, many marketers now talk as if brands are people who build relationships with customers. Consumers are not looking for relationships. They have a higher propensity to swap brands than ever before. You could say they prefer a one-night stand. People don’t want a brand as a BFF, rather a brand they can trust (sing along to Bruce Springsteen “Brands like us, baby we were born to sell”).

Treat brands like people and we could have a new service – “Dorothy Dix” advice to brands:

  • Should I “do it” on our first date?
  • What if he/she is seeing another brand?
  • Ten tips when meeting the family.

Or possibly an Agony Aunt advice column to help people deal with brands:

  • My favourite brand passed away 6 months ago. Is it too soon to start seeing other brands?
  • My favourite brand gets jealous so easily. How can I tell them I am only friends with these other brands?
  • How do I know when I am ready to settle down with just one brand? I can’t help myself when I see an attractive brand.

Some other facts highlighted by Ritson.

  • Two-thirds of Australians do not follow any brands on social media. (Sensis says it is 77%.).
  • Of the those that do, over 80% of them follow less than 7 brands.
  • Two-thirds of marketers are unsure of their social media ROI, yet two-thirds said they are increasing their social media budget. (Try and think of that happening with any other “medium”).

This bias also impacts on how traditional media performance is presented. Someone not at all familiar with our industry would think, based on the “literature”, that traditional media has become almost irrelevant and advertisers should be spending mostly on social and online with just a cursory presence in mainstream (Ritson’s presentation discusses the relative performance of each in detail). Just one of many examples are notes from a recent article “Young Viewers Switch off TV”. In bold is the commentary on the research results. Like the vast majority of commentary, it death rides traditional media.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 (17.8%) of 14 to 24 year olds don’t watch any Free-to-air TV. That could be written as “Over 80% of 14 to 24 year olds still watch Free-to-air TV”. Conclusion. Free-to-air still most single powerful advertising medium.
  • In 7 years’ time that figure will increase to one third. “Excuse me client, but in 7 years only 66.66% of 14 to 24 year olds to Free-to-air TV. So you should drop it from your schedule now.”
  • It is now nearly 1 in 7 Australians watch no Free-to-air TV during the week. (Not weekends). Again, could say that 85.7% of Australians watch Free-to-air TV during the week.

The elephant will remain sitting happily in the room, growing ever fatter, whilst emotions, peer pressure and vested interests continue to drive the social media agenda.

What Price Service in an Industry Obsessed with Technology?

What Price Service in an Industry Obsessed with Technology?

Reframing Australia? This "News" is 20 Years Old.

Reframing Australia? This "News" is 20 Years Old.