If you believe any of the countless ‘digital experts’ peddling their opinions under titles such as ‘social media guru’ on Twitter, then the ‘age of interruption is over’. But despite the misgivings you may have about anyone who gives themselves a job title with the word guru in it, there is definitely some truth to this thought. In theory, poorly targeted advertising that relies on interruption to get noticed should be a thing of the past, giving way to increasingly smart service design, experiential extravaganzas and branded content that drives huge brand advocacy. However, with the rise of native advertising and options for paid promotion on virtually every social platform now a given, have we really come all that far?
Marketing on social platforms follows user migration: where the audience goes, the advertisers will follow. The current trend, however, is moving from platforms that are more open source and accessible by all, to ones that instead focus on the ability for users to engage with specifically targeted groups of friends/followers. Whether it be Snapchat, WhatsApp or Instagram’s foray into private messaging, as users move to more private platforms, advertising follows, so it is sitting in increasingly personal spaces with the aim of creating ever more intimate moments with customers. As a result, the potential negative repercussions of a poor brand interruption are potentially greater than ever.
The latest example is the backlash faced by McDonald’s when using Instagram’s fledgling ad offering. The brand’s content was swamped with thousands of negative comments, with many more taking to Twitter to voice their annoyance there as well. When you consider the rigour that is placed around advertising on Instagram compared to other platforms (founder Kevin Systrom insists on personally approving every ad that goes live), it is not hard to imagine a similar reaction to content on other networks).
There are ways to provide a stream of content that builds your brand, creates interest and suits the platform. The fashion industry, in contrast to McDonald’s, has found a natural home on Instagram. It is of course a natural fit, with the image-focused nature helping the likes of Burberry, Marc Jacobs and ASOS to show off their personality alongside products. In some instances the platform can even become a brand’s primary voice; Vogue’s high fashion shoot #VogueInstaFashion was delivered direct to Instagram rather than first published in the magazine. This level of exclusive content creates value for consumers and a reason to want to engage with the brands.
In a similar vein, the launch of the third season of TV show Girls involved using the time-limited nature of the Snapchat platform to engage with fans. Followers received countdowns to the release of the show, shots of the stars on the red carpet at the show launch party as well as a picture of an emoji referenced in a previous episode (“A panda next to a gun next to a wrapped gift? It makes no sense.”). Unsurprisingly, many users shared it with their friends.
Even native advertising that tends to be loathed by consumers, such as YouTube pre-rolls, can be highly effective when used correctly. At the start of the year we worked with Burger King to create the ‘Anti Pre-roll’, a collection of 64 pieces of film, each with a tailored message relevant to the content the consumer would be watching after our ad. Rather than ignore the dislike of the medium we used it to create something the audience found genuinely funny. What’s more, it drove more than just engagement. As a result of the campaign we saw a double digit increase in percentage of sales of the meal range advertised.
In essence, the campaigns that work come back to a simple truth, which is at the heart of the best work in this space: spend time where your customers are but make sure you are adding value. If you can give people something they truly want to spend time engaging with then they will repay you by sharing your message.
The rush to beat rival agencies to the punch often sees the quality of work drop. However, the digital space cannot just be seen as a place to throw out a myriad of cheap, fast campaigns. We need to apply the same rigour to this channel as we do to ‘traditional’ ones. First is not always best (just ask the community manager who was in charge of McDonald’s foray into Instagram advertising).
The challenge for social platforms and brands is clear. And focusing less on being first at something and more on higher quality and relevant content will be crucial. If there isn’t a shift away from quantity over quality, both the brands that act this way and the platforms that provide the audience will suffer the consequences.
- Neville Doyle is the digital planning director at ColensoBBDO/Proximity NZ.
- This article originally appeared in the September/October edition of NZ Marketing.