Monthly Archives: November 2008

Social media is truly coming of age — just ask my 85-year-old mom

My mother will turn 85 this coming December 26th. This year, when I visit her and my dad for the holidays, she’d like me to show her “these new things on the internet” that she’s been hearing about. What she’s been hearing about — and not just from me — are the communities and online social tools that have become integrated into the lives of many of us. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, etc. She’s not sure which ones might be right for her, but she’s curious and wants me to help her understand them.

Despite her age, my mother is comfortable with the computer, uses email and knows how to set up a video conference on iChat. She also enjoys simple computer games. She loves to be in touch with friends and family, but isn’t able to get around as much as she used to. For older people like my mother, social media can be a godsend against isolation, a way to stay connected to the wider world and to socialize.

Josh Bernof, one of the co-authors of the book Groundswell and analyst at Forrester Research, recently wrote about the rapid growth of adaption of social media in 2008. Not surprisingly, much of it is coming from older onliners. Whereby he defines “older” as 35-44 year old’s. (And I thought 40 was the new 30.) But even among Americans aged 55 and up who are online, only 38% are what Bernhof calls “inactives” — people who don’t even passively use social media (e.g. never ever read, say, a blog, much less leave a comment or subscribe to one).

I say not suprisingly because the greatest potential for social media growth will come from that great white space of older, later adopters, who still have yet to get their feet wet. But have every reason to do so. Like my mom.

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Ford Fiesta Germany’s social media launch — “A” for effort, but not much more

Finally I’m writing about a social media campaign right here in my own back yard.  It’s one that nicely integrates a number of social media spaces, including MySpace, Flickr and Twitter.  The campaign is for the launch of the new 2009 Ford Fiesta in Germany.  It’s geared (pun intended) to young drivers, who of course are digital and online community natives.

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The first thing that caught my attention was the MySpace page and a promotion centered around the theme “Mitten im Jetzt” (This is now.)  Friends of the page were invited to upload photos and videos. These were then displayed in MySpace and on a giant Ford Fiesta billboard on the Ku’damm, one of Berlin’s liveliest thoroughfares.  Visitors to the page could vote for their favorites and winners received iPod touch players.

Links on MySpace connected people to Flickr, where those who joined the community again could upload photos related to the “This is now” theme.  An interactive collage made from these consumer-generated photos enveloped the car on the Ford Fiesta launch web site. A Twitter feed kept people up-to-date on winners, additional activities and events around the launch, and specific times when photos and videos would be shown on the screen in Berlin.

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What should have been better was the launch theme.  “This is now” doesn’t feel like much of an idea to stimulate the creative juices of the YouTube generation.  It lacks edge.  It doesn’t take a stand.  And how does it relate to the new Ford Fiesta?  The Ford Fiesta is hip?  The Ford Fiesta is “the choice of a new generation?”  Been there, done that.

Contrast this with the recent “I am a PC” campaign from Microsoft.  Different target, but similar mechanism.  PC/Microsoft users were invited to post videos that were displayed on public screens across the country in the US.  That initiative had a clear strategy at the heart of it — destroy the myth that PC users are uncool, uninteresting, establishment types, as portrayed in Apple advertising.  PC users are just as creative and individualistic as Mac users, if not more.  What PC user wouldn’t be motivated to get behind that and post a video?

Ford Fiesta earns kudos for attempting to appeal to young drivers through the social media and communities where they live online.  But they missed the boat in failing to build that effort around a compelling idea, grounded in the values of the brand, that would really ignite the community.  Perhaps that’s one reason that the number of MySpace “This is now” friends (1344) and photo entries (944), as well as Twitter followers (68), was nothing to set anyone’s spark plugs afire.  And I wonder to what extent this effort did much of anything to get even those people to buy into the brand and spread the word about it.

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January 20th, 2009 — the inauguration of a new kind of marketing

In a recent post on Advertising Age online, Sam Levin describes a development on Facebook relating to tagging photos with friends’ names.  In order to promote a cause, candidate, event or what have you, a Facebook user tags that photo with the names of “influential” Facebook friends.  The photo then shows up in the feeds of all the friends of that influencer, tagged with his or her name, indicating — falsely — a connection or implicit endorsement between the influencer and the cause.  Understand? (It took me a while.)  What’s important is that the photo isn’t of the influential Facebook user, it relates to the cause.  And, as someone else tags the user’s name to the photo, the implied endorsement is false.  I guess you could call it deceptive testimonial advertising, Facebook style.

Mr. Levin goes on to say that this could be “a really terrific idea for someone looking to broadly push a message” and suggests the possibility of a marketing campaign working in this way.  In a follow up post to comments objecting to the practice as misleading, Mr. Levin responds that this is simply a “re-purposing of a channel intended for one thing towards another end, but regardless of value judgment, any online communication platform is an exercise in design defining the way information is transacted.  Systems will always be adopted for the most profitable ends possible, just as water flows downhill.”  He goes on to say that “Social networks, just like email before them, are going to have to contend with the fact that through their constructions they open themselves up for use in ways they do not intend (which may or may not be sub-optimal for their user base).”

This assessment is disturbing:

1) It implies that any use of a medium, regardless of how deceptive, is justified if it provides profit to the media provider and enables marketers to achieve business objectives.

2) It encourages marketers to continue to use the old communications model of “pushing” commercial messages in front of people whether they want to hear them or not, rather than applying the marketer’s  energy to find innovative models that work with, not against, the new dynamics of social media to empower communications and conversations.

3) It’s the kind of thinking that make people mistrust marketing — and rightly so.  Sure, baiting people with a friend’s tag to get them to click on a photo that connects them to a marketing message may create a brand impression, but is a brand impression that tricks a person into receiving it under false pretenses an effective one?  Especially when social media offers so many ways that can motivate people to opt in to hearing your message?  I don’t think so.

Which brings me – in case you were wondering — to the title of this post.  During his campaign, President-elect Barack Obama talked about the end of “politics as usual.”  Americans, he said, were tired of the deceptive, misleading and shallow tactics of the Washington establishment, which they recognized to be  more about each party’s hunger for political power, than about addressing the challenges facing the nation and helping secure a better future for its citizens and the world.

I think the country is hoping that come January 20th, 2009, we will witness not just the inauguration of a new president, but of a new era of honesty, transparency and mutual respect in politics.  Is it to idealistic to hope the same for marketing and communications?

Okay — comparing misleading tags on Facebook photos to past evils in Washington may be a stretch.  But the practice Mr. Levin suggests is symptomatic of a much wider array of marketing practices, supported by billions of dollars, that often manipulate the truth, mislead consumers, and bash them into submission with commercial messages in the hope of making a sale.  Social media enables marketing  and communications that, like the political tone many of us hope for, are grounded in honesty, transparency and mutual respect between the brand and consumers.  Don’t we have more to gain by pursuing new communications practices that are empowered by the tools and the spirit of communities like Facebook, rather than manipulating those communities to try and preserve the old model of one-way, push communications?

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We can to do better than pre-roll advertising

I recently received an eMarketer notice entitled, “Online Video Advertising Starts Looking Good.”  eMarketer says that 65% of internet users now view some form of video advertising and projects that by 2012, 4 out 5 of them will.  I presume these are US statistics.  Now, 4 out of 5 is 80%, which doesn’t seem like that much of an increase.  What’s more, eMarketer defines an online video ad viewer as someone who sees any form of video advertising at least once a month.  That doesn’t sound like much either.

You also have to ask what we mean by viewing? Right now, video pre-roll commercials are one of the more common forms of online advertising.  But if this is the best format we can come up with, it hardly looks like a promising start to goodness, much less greatness.

Here’s a recent experience I had, which you’ve probably had at some point as well.  I was investigating a topic online, and clicked on a link to a video relating to it on MSNBC.  Before I could watch my video, I was forced to watch a pre-roll advertisement for a bottled salad dressing.  There was no discernible connection between the video I wanted to watch and salad dressing, food or meal preparation. Nor do I use bottled salad dressing. But if I ever do in future, I will be sure never to buy this particular brand.  Not because the ad was bad, but because the advertiser forced me to watch it.  So I guess technically I viewed the ad.  But it would have been better off for the brand if I hadn’t.

Pre-roll ads adhere to old marketing thinking that the marketer can still control the message in an age (today), and an environment (the internet), in which consumers demand to be able to choose the commercial messages they want to receive and the time and place to receive them.  Forcing an advertising message down my throat when I am in internet “search mode” is the perfect way to irritate me and turn me off to your brand.

The future of online advertising will really start to look good when, similar to Google AdWords, the technology can tailor the online video ad to the content of the video I’m watching, increasing the likelihood that the product advertised might be relevant to me, and allow me to opt in to hear the message if I so desire.  I would think this is technically possible now and the only reason it isn’t happening is because marketers are reluctant to give up the control of message delivery they’ve enjoyed up to now.

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