Social media yet to “show me the money”

Read a great post by Martin Weigel, head of planning at Wieden + Kennedy in Amsterdam, in which he shoots holes through the fad of using social media to create "consumer engagement". It weaves together  themes from several of my posts about social media being sexy, but yet to "show me the money" as a business building tool.

Here are 5 of his key points.

    1. ‘Engagement’ is not new
    Martin calls time on the myth being propagated by many people that "Until the internet arrived people were passive, manipulable, gullible, unquestioning and generally stupid consumers of marketing content.Then the internet arrived and put power in the hands of ordinary people."

    I agree with Martin that great marketing has always created engagement. I like the example he uses of the Levis ‘Launderette’ commercial. "A teenager could have bought the reissued (vinyl) single of Marvin Gaye’s  ‘I heard it through the grapevine’. Or they could have hung a poster of Nick Kamen on their bedroom wall.  Or gushed to their friends about how dishy he was. Or actually bought a pair of 501s."

    What new technology does do of course is to make it possible for great marketing to be amplified faster and broader than ever before. But in the same way word-of-mouth chat down the pub about your new ad was a bonus, not a central part of your media plan, shouldn't the same go for "viral" communication today? After all, viral communication (such as a TV ad which becomes a YouTube hit) is: i) not predictable, ii) not plann-able (we have no idead who is watching, when, where).

    2. ‘Engagement’ is a means to an end

    As I posted on here, one of the biggest problems with social media is the lack of data on its effectiveness. Sure, there is lots of data. But this data is what Martin calls "intermediate measures", such as YouTube views or Facebook Likes. These things are, potentially, a means to end not an end in themselves.

    And Martin says "Efficient audience delivery is not the same as impact on a business's revenue and profit."

    And data suggesting that Facebook fans are more likely to buy a brand also needs to be treated with caution. Whilst there is a correlation here, causality has not been proven. i.e. Facebook fans could be fans BECAUSE they buy more, and not the other way round.

    3. "Interruption" marketing is dead

    Many experts like to tell us that we are at the end of the ‘age of interruption’ and that we must engage and involve consumers. This makes a simple and dramatic media story. But its a huge exageration and over-simplification. Great marketing needs to get people to stop and take notice, in order to interupt the 90% of daily decision making we do on auto-pilot, as I posted on here.

    Martin's point is that this interuption needs to be done in a way that is relevant and, yes, engaging. He quotes as examples:

    – Old Spice’s the man your man could smell like from the US

    – Compare The Market’s meerkats from the UK

    – Hovis UK's revitalisation of the "boy on his bike" campaign

     More on the enduring effectiveness of TV advertising in an earlier post here.

    4. Penetration not loyalty drives growth

    My most talked about post ever was this one earlier this year on "How Brands Grow" by Byron Sharp. And Martin is on the same page as Byron, pointing out the gaping hole in the idea of using social media to create extra loyal brand fans. Like Byron and myself, he holds up Saatchi's Lovemarks concept as one of the worst examples of this: "Lovemarks inspire loyalty beyond reason.” [My piss-take on this from a few years back was "Hugbrands": video here]

    In fact, loyalty levels between brands are pretty similar. Bigger brands are bigger because they have higher penetration. Martin quotes data from Charles Graham’s analysis of six years’ of TNS coffee buyer data. Kenco's share growth is driven by higher penetration, with purchase per buyer stating the same.


    5. Overestimating people’s appetite for participation

    This last point really is a killer.

    Martin quotes Paul Saffo of Institute for the Future in California saying:  “In this new-media culture, people no longer passively ‘consume’ media but actively participate in them, which usually means creating content, in whatever form and on whatever scale.”

    I've thought this was a load of old bollocks for ages. Most people have no time, energy or desire to "actively participate" in 99% of the brands they use.

    Martin quotes analysis by Futurelab showing that the vast majority of Facebook Likers don’t actually interact much at all. The analysis looked 20 of the most-liked celebrities on Facebook. For one of the most popular, Lady Gaga, it found:

    – Lady Gaga had 39 million Facebook followers (May 2011): big!


    – Lady Gaga's page had on average only 1.82 comments per user: small!


    – Only 1,231 people commented more than this average, or 0.003% of the Facebook likers

    In other words, 99.997% of Facebook likers for Lady Gaga commented less than twice. As Martin says, "It would appear that deep ‘engagement’ is a minority preoccupation, not a mass-market phenomenon." And this is for popstars. What's it like for petfood or processed cheese?!

    Another example if from Wikipedia:

    – Average unique visitors : 391,000,000 (year to April 2011)

    – Active editors: 10,900 or 0.02%

    – ‘Very active editors’: 86,900 or 0.003%

    In conclusion, I think Byron Sharp has a good suggestion when it comes to social media. Treat it as part of your research budget, not your media budget, until its proven to show us the money. And in the meantime, good old marketing like TV is still a proven and effective business building tool when done well.

    And a big thanks to Martin for a goldmine of thinking and examples.