Gray matters: microbrands are social brands

When I saw StopPress introducing Zavy’s Social Scoreboard, I couldn’t help thinking that comparing how the top 25 traditional media advertising spenders in New Zealand have performed on social media, is great, as far as it goes; but it is microbrands that have been the greatest beneficiaries of advertising on social sites.

There is a myriad of microbrands that would never have achieved marketing success in an environment solely made up of traditional advertising. It is all very well tagging on a bit of Facebook advertising if you have the hefty marketing budgets of an Air New Zealand or one of the big banks, but smaller brands have found a way to succeed with a fraction of the ad spend.

In an Economist article earlier this month, Jonathan Barnard of media agency, Zenith, said: “Online advertising, using platforms such as Facebook, allows brands to target customers with great accuracy. The vast majority of growth in advertising is coming from the digital kind, and a large proportion of this is from small advertisers.”

UK social media consultant, Sam Burgess of Social Mouth, helps small brand owners grow their businesses online through social media. In her blog, she talks about the rise of microbrands and their success on sites like Instagram. As she puts it, “A small engaged community is worth so much more to your business than a large disengaged one.”

Forbes refers to microbrands as “digital-first brands, direct-to-consumer brands, digitally native vertical brands, v-commerce brands, challenger brands and so on, shaped by a combination of customer centricity, ease and convenience.”

“Why are they rising? asks Forbes, which then goes on to say: “Microbrands have a different DNA. With technology as their native language, they’re bred online and born to move fast. They are mobile-first, hyper-social, channel fluid and deliver the perfect buying experience to net-savvy consumers with extremely high expectations. These differences point to a significant gap between what consumers want and what traditional retail offers.

Closer to home, Smart Company in Australia calls microbrands the way of the future, asks the question: ”Can big brands withstand this death by a thousand cuts inflicted by microbrands?” The article refers to investor and entrepreneur Scott Belsky, who commented on Medium, “In just ten minutes or so scrolling on Instagram, I counted over a dozen brands I had never heard of selling a product that caught my eye. There are so many direct-to-consumer brands we’ve never heard of these days, and I’ve patronized more than I care to admit.”

The point of all these references is to point out there is a whole world of successful microbrands that have extremely interesting stories to tell about the use of social media for marketing success.


In a caveat to the Microbrands are Social brands post above, there is a buyer beware warning. Earlier this year Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the social site is “trying to prevent posts from ‘businesses, brands and media’ from crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” In a Facebook post, Zuckerberg says: “We’ve gotten feedback from our community that public content – posts from businesses, brands and media – is crowding out the personal moments that lead us to connect more with each other.” He goes on to say: “Based on this, we’re making a major change to how we build Facebook. I’m changing the goal I give our product teams from focusing on helping you find relevant content to helping you have more meaningful social interactions.”

How Facebook advertisers cope with this change will be interesting. Translating the phrase “more meaningful social interactions” in the context of social media advertising will sort the winners from the losers.

In a follow up from Adam Mosseri, head of newsfeed at Facebook, the way forward becomes clearer: “We will prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people. To do this, we will predict which posts you might want to interact with your friends about and show these posts higher in feed. These are posts that inspire back-and-forth discussion in the comments and posts that you might want to share and react to.”

This change will require advertisers on Facebook to be far more creative than many have been in the past. In August Alex Himel, VP of Local at Facebook offered some clues as to the way forward, in a Facebook newsroom post entitled Helping People Connect with Local Businesses.

What’s the Issue?

In the past couple of weeks there seems to have been a flurry of publicity over brands attaching themselves to social issues. Lush supports Transgender visibility with latest campaign was followed with a StopPress piece entitled: ASB launches ‘Clever Little Life Savers’ campaign with St John via True. These two items were preceded by DairyNZ and NZME launch a ‘clear vision’ for New Zealand’s waterways.

Lush campaign

So, it really begs the question of whether the benefits of the product on offer needs to be attached to a cause to obtain the requisite number of consumer approvals or whether indeed the causes may subtract from the brand equity rather than adding to it.

A Newsroom article, Transgender rights debate rises to surface, written by political commentator, Dr Bryce Edwards, in July this year, highlights what a polarising issue this is in New Zealand and overseas. Now I’m not a user of Lush cosmetics and I’m certainly not in the target market, but I do question whether an issue as polarising as it is to feminists as well as conservatives is a good choice of brand alignment. I wait with bated breath for some follow-up sales figures or brand share to validate what I would call a brave decision.

Less brave is the decision by ASB to align with St John or Dairy NZ and NZME to attach themselves to a campaign to inspire New Zealanders to get involved with looking after its rivers, streams, lakes and beaches. The only question, once again, is whether these good causes result in long-term brand support.

There was a very interesting article written on Adobe’s CMO, by contributing writer, Mercedes M. Cardona, headed: Brands That Take A Stand Soar With Consumers. In it, she quotes Holly Campbell, VP of corporate responsibility at Adobe (CMO.com’s parent company) saying: “There’s a growing body of research that shows customers – both consumers and enterprise decision makers – expect the companies they buy from to act responsibly and stand up for issues that matter. Millennials—a very socially conscious generation – soon will be 50 percent of the workforce, she noted, so their expectations are part of this dynamic.”

Why can’t a woman be like a man?

Back in September, StopPress ran an opinion piece Changing faces of women in advertising, highlighting the story of equality (or inequality) in advertising. While that article was more about how women were being portrayed in ads, the question of gender equality in advertising rose its photoshopped face again in the UK, where a group of white, straight, British male creatives from J Walter Thompson London accused the agency of discrimination after being made redundant.

Apparently, according to PR Week, “they were made redundant just days after expressing their concern at remarks made by JWT creative director Jo Wallace on stage at a Creative Equals conference in May. Wallace, who introduced herself to the audience as a gay woman, said she was going to “obliterate” JWT’s reputation as an agency full of white, British, privileged, straight men.”

As a subject du jour, the conversation probably needs to be had in New Zealand. Campaign in the UK, has taken up the gender equality cause, writing: “The lack of gender diversity may be just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to addressing the industry’s diversity problem, but it is nonetheless an urgent issue to address.

One line I find most pertinent from the Campaign article is from Lindsey Clay, chief executive of Thinkbox, who says the industry is still living in the shadow of the 1980s, “the industry needs to acknowledge the cultural change required to clear away the obstacles women face”.

So, is it an issue in Auckland and Wellington? StopPress readers might like to give their opinions.


Looking at the latest Colmar Brunton survey of the Brands Kiwis Love, it seems that your typical Kiwi is someone sitting in front of the TV, watching an All Black game, scoffing down some Whittaker’s chocolate and a Tip Top ice cream, wishing they’d taken an Air New Zealand flight to see the game live. Back in the kitchen, mum is whipping up dinner from a selection of Watties’ products and the kids are surreptitiously partaking of a few Pineapple Lumps purchased from New World.

About Author

Graham Medcalf is a freelance writer and owner of Red Advertising.

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