Posts Tagged ‘branded messaging


Facebook Marketing: Revolution Meh

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.

facebook ads

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, coming on the heels of the countless e-mails I’ve received after buying a couple of e-books 3 months ago.

Irrelevant relevance.
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.

Vision unenvisioned.
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.



In the American holiday season just past, I received reams of ritualized holiday e-mails from brands large and small. The tone of each, a sanitized smiley face of generalities, was as noxious as it was ineffective.

That’s because, of all the reasons I might think to buy something else from Brand X, Y or Z, receiving a generic holiday wish doesn’t even make it into the top 100,000. After all, if I purchase a set of speakers from Best Buy, it’s because I need a pair of speakers, not a pair of Best Buys.

The same applies to similarly personality-devoid greetings from dozens of other brands. Sure, when viewed from 30,000 feet, the idea of sending customers a holiday greeting makes sense. But the moment you zoom in closer, a warning bell ought to go off.

In a misguided attempt to offer a personalized greeting—with my name on it, and everything—brands I interacted with throughout 2013 sent me something analogous to a Hallmark card instead. Now, even if the CEOs of major retailers might think to send such greetings to family and friends, keep in mind, they’re not asking Uncle Charlie for repeat business.

Unwelcome thanks.
Holiday greetings, as such, aren’t motivating in the least. That’s because they’re so transparently shallow that they breakdown the relationship a brand has fought hard to establish. It’s a relationship based on a mutually beneficial transaction. The only reason customers like Brand X is that Brand X delivers a useful product—regardless of whether the problem it solves is as real as donuts or as imaginary as my “weight loss plan.”

An emotionally void and flagrantly insincere holiday card, on the other hand, is useless. If a brand wants to show its appreciation, it would be better off if it gave me across-the-board discounts from here on out. The way I see it, after I’ve paid for my 15,000th bottle of Snapple, the company has already made good on its investment—and can afford to lower its margins for me and everyone else in the 15K community.

What price retention?
Of course, the bean counters in the room will consider my proposal “costly.” But it’s not as if hiring an ad agency to create a holiday greeting platform year after year is “cheap.” That is, unless you embarrass yourself by contracting out to a cut-rate e-mail vendor whose only real expertise involves chewing your ear off about “best practices” and up-selling you to Mars.

Rewarding people with something tied directly to the transactional relationship that made them your high-value customers makes a lot more sense. It also avoids the whole sticky business of tracking what holiday each customer celebrates. Because therein lies the most counterproductive aspect of the holiday greeting playbook.

Nobody celebrates “the holidays.”

Stick to the script, by saying something real.
The phrase “Happy Holidays” is phony, meaningless, and gets more offensive every year. In fact, the longer we inhabit this planet, the clearer it becomes that the path to world unity has nothing to do with cultural homogenization.

Not that there’s any need to get so lofty about it. The point is, the moment you say “the holidays,” I know you’re not talking to me. That’s the moment I tune you out—because you’ve broken our implied contract: I give you attention when you give me value.

The same goes, ultimately, for all ritualized statements of appreciation. Especially, that is, when delivered in the intimate environs of social space. Remember that talking to someone on Facebook or Instagram is talking to them in the same space they share their “personal selves” with people they actually care about, transactions aside.

In that context “Thank You For Your Business” no longer sounds like idiomatic English, while the more elaborate phrase:

 “We Appreciate Your Patronage and Look Forward to Serving You in 2014”

…sounds like greetings transmitted by an alien starship on its way in from the Cat’s Eye Nebula.

Again, the basic impulse is sound: People running a business want to grow their relationships with people subsumed under the label “valued customers.” But just as you can’t get your garden to flourish in AstroTurf, your messaging platform—at all times of the year—needs to grow naturally out of real communication: one-to-one, value-driven and directly related to why your customers keep coming back.

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY



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