It has been several years since the first wave of enthusiastic gushing began for Facebook’s integration of advertising into the flow of its service to members. Today, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting somebody ready to tout its virtues. I’ve been told to expect a revolution in marketing at least once a month since, let’s say 2009, and I figured it’s about time I checked in to see what I’ve been missing.
Because, strangely, nothing seems to have changed.
That is, nothing beyond what the evolution of digital space itself has created since the late 1990s. Exhibit A is a collection of sidebar ads from my own universe as of 6-28-14, which at a single glance belies the hype and reinforces my concerns about current trends in marketing theory. Or rather, current trends in the ideology of marketing theory.
For I’m meant to believe that the mere presence of a tiny data-driven space ad in a consumer’s personal electronic village will make him or her more eager. That must be what brands are counting on because, on the face of it, these ads are as ordinary as any I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I’ve eaten vanilla ice cream with way more energy, character—not to say taste.
But in theoretical terms, what’s absent is meaningful targeting. For example, to the extent that I already have Verizon service, a Verizon ad that doesn’t offer me new value—say, a free upgrade—isn’t truly targeted, because it does nothing for me in real time. The same goes for the appeal from Amazon.com, coming on the heels of the countless e-mails I’ve received after buying a couple of e-books 3 months ago.
Besides, what is there about my visit to Facebook that implies I’m thinking about Kindles? I visited my personal electronic village to see if anyone there had a life changing experience or a goofy photo or a goofy photo of a life changing experience.
In that context, the only way to convince me to click through would be to offer something exclusive—exclusive to me, an offer I alone can take advantage of. After all, you’ve walked into my personal electronic village uninvited, crashed the wedding, eaten all the shrimp at the wake, nudged your way next to my best friend’s baby pictures and all you have to offer is “ACT NOW”?
Worse, I’m amazed to see that, despite the huge cottage industry in internet-guru-mentoring services, these are ads that would rest comfortably between the covers of any standard-issue consumer magazine.
“Have a lovely NYC home?”
…reads the headline for a home-swapping service. The creaky, two- to three-step process this lead-in asks of me to grasp its message follows a tired formula dating back at least 60 years. Sure, on November 5th, 1955, question headlines were the bleeding edge of a new wave of “conversational” copy.
In our time, leading with a question in Facebook is as uninteresting as it would be anywhere else. “Have a lovely NYC home?” Well, mine’s a wreck at the moment, but if your message is that someone might be interested in swapping homes anyway, just to simplify their NYC vacation, that’s another issue. I could probably tidy up the place to show off its “character.” But you’ll never get me there with that question.
Hand in glove with the inadequacy of the ads goes the amorphous, inarticulate Facebook design environment, with its white background, tiny thumbnails, and unweighted snippets of text arrayed so there’s no visual cue to distinguish a list from a comment from an ad from a bit of directional copy.
I mean, focus, anyone? I doubt I would have noticed the sidebar ads if I hadn’t been seeking them out and it’s here that the revolution seems especially stalled. For this, brands have only to blame themselves. By mimicking the look and feel of true Facebook entries—in a phony bid for “authenticity”— these ads fail to even call attention to themselves. And that, after all, is their first job: to get noticed.
So, as always, in evaluating “what works,” the true test is not the rationale that brought you to your methodology, but the real-time impact of the conduit you’ve chosen for your branded message. A sad, creaky remnant of campaigns from long ago, no matter where its placed, can’t be transmogrified into a revolutionary recasting of consumer engagement, just by jamming it right up next your customer’s latest cute cat/puppy/baby/car/home/vacation/wedding update. That’s why, as I see it, the only thing Facebook marketing revolves around is the status quo.