Facebook looks to move from social to mass media

This week, at a time when mainstream media is scrambling in a bid to ensure longevity, Facebook invited creative and media agency folks to the Seafarers’ Building for a casual chat on the growing prominence of mobile media.

As has come to be customary at these events, the word ‘penetration’ was again sapped of all its salacious energy as it was used time and again to reference the fact that over 80 percent of New Zealanders now use smartphones daily.

Over the course of the event, a consistent trend was Facebook’s unmatched scale and that it presents a massive marketing opportunity to brands. This is, of course, nothing new. It’s a narrative relayed every time Facebook adds another lump to its enormous audience.

However, what was interesting was that there seemed to be an attempt by the online giant to distance itself from its social media roots.

This was most apparent in the speech delivered by Tom Hyde, Facebook’s creative agency partner across Australia and New Zealand, who said it was important to recognise the platform as a mass media (or, in his words, “super massive”) channel, rather than restricting it to the social realm.

He explains the phrase “super massive medium” is necessary because Facebook’s daily scale offers a level of access to consumers unachievable on any of the other mass media channels.  

“Once upon a time, you were lucky to reach half the country with one ad with the best programme on a Saturday night,” Hyde says. “But now we have the opportunity to reach those numbers every day of the week.”

The shift might only seem like a small semantic change or the substitution of one descriptor for another.

However, the words we use matter. They form perceptions, which either directly or indirectly impact how marketers spend their money.

Hyde admits before working at Facebook, he similarly didn’t see the platform as a mass media channel.

“It’s been the biggest light bulb moment for me,” he says.

“About a year and half ago, I was working on the creative agency side and I saw it as a social media channel: a place for likes, shares and engagement.”

Since stepping into his role as a creative agency partner seven months ago (he was only the third person in the world appointed to such a position), Hyde says his perception has changed and he now spends a big chunk of his time sharing this insight in adland.   

“One of my core roles is going out and literally doing tours of all the agencies in Australia and New Zealand and trying to flick that light bulb on in their heads,” he says.

“It’s about getting them to stop doing shares and likes and quirky small things, and just get them to tell big, long stories. It’s about trying to get them away from social media and engagement and move them toward mobile broadcast.”

We don’t need more content

Part of the reason why Facebook is looking to change the way advertisers think about the channel is because it might lead to advertisers spending more on the creative they publish on the site.

“We need to start getting clients to start spending quality money with a quality agency that knows how to change behaviour,” Hyde says. “And you need to give it the same care and consideration whether it’s in your pocket or on the screen on the TV.”

Hyde says that for many marketers, Facebook remains a “dumping ground” for television commercials and small pieces of creative that are tagged onto a campaign, sometimes as little more than an afterthought.

This has led to an explosion of what has come to be called “content”—and while we’re on the topic of semantics, this is a word that curls Hyde’s toes.      

“I’m anti the word ‘content’,” he says.  

Hamlet is content, Star Wars is content and my child’s nappy contains content. Content is just stuff and there’s far too much stuff. No one says, ‘I’m going to the theatre tonight to watch a bit of content by Shakespeare’. It’s just nonsense.”

These sentiments parallel those of Slate contributor Jon Christian, who recently also called on journalists to stop calling their stories ‘content’:

“I find the idea of someone aspiring to create content, in as many words, to be almost indescribably sad. It seems like an act of pre-emptive surrender, of giving up hope that you’ll ever create something with a higher calling than attracting clicks for some monolithic publisher.”

Hyde says he would almost prefer marketers to call their online executions ‘ads’ because this is what they actually are.

He believes one way we can move beyond treating Facebook as a dumping ground for a large amorphous blob of content is by getting advertisers to get more strategic in the way they produce content for Facebook.

He points to the example of VW Australia, which in 2015 released its ‘tough sell’ campaign as a series of episodes on Facebook.   

“It shows that you have to think about things in much more detail than before. They did the planning upfront, and then at the four-day shoot, they managed to get six months’ worth of footage.”

Because of the regularity with which people check their Facebook feeds, Hyde argues that you can’t simply create one 30-second spot and then blast this out for half a year. Agencies need to tweak their storytelling approach to suit the channel, he says.

And Facebook is looking to encourage this evolution of online storytelling by working with a limited number of agencies in various markets. Locally, Hyde has already worked with Colenso BBDO and DDB.

“What we want to try and do is change the creative agencies’ mindsets,” he says. “We can probably do that two or three agencies at a time. We need these agencies to trailblaze and do brilliant pieces of work.”

This work then plays an aspirational role in encouraging other advertisers to also experiment on the platform.

And experimentation doesn’t mean that you have to build on the platform or rip it apart, Hyde says.

“You wouldn’t think up a new idea for TV that needs a new button on the remote control – it’s not going to happen,” he says. 

“You have to think about it within the constraints of the platform … You can do new and fresh, but just do it from a storytelling perspective.”

Facebook has already done a pretty good job of encroaching into the space occupied by mainstream media, and by now pushing itself as mass media delivery channel, it’s giving advertisers another compelling reason to shift their spend. And if the current trends are anything to go by, then it shouldn’t have much of a problem pulling an even bigger chunk of ad spend into its walled garden.  

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