Posts Tagged ‘Relevance


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.


Beefy Big Data & A Question of Substance

The phrase “data-driven advertising” refers to the use of data gleaned from consumers’ online activity to deliver customized content to Web sites they are known to visit. Such content can take any number of forms, including advertorials, banners, interactive polling—some content staying constant, some swapped out for increased relevance to a particular user’s interests.

At issue, however, is whether the result is a message that actually targets a user or simply syncs with “what’s relevant” in a statistical sense. So if my cookies show I’m interested in glassware, you’ll go ahead and zap glassware-relevant content to my browser. But what will ensure you’ll sell me on the idea of buying yourChardonnay Value Packnow?

While data-driving is a recent phenomenon, claims for its effectiveness reach cult status in some circles. Results for data-driven ads are compared favorably by its supporters to results for “static ads.” But, as always, my question is, “Which static ads?” After all, the vast majority of static ads are so inadequate that any well-conceived alternative is bound to perform better.

Considering how complex data-driving mechanisms are, it’s easy to see how a confusion of cause and effect got started. But let’s be clear: it’s not data itself that turns the tide, but good campaign strategy delivered affectingly through data-driven means. Your data-driving strategy is of no consequence unless the thinking behind the delivery method actually connects with consumers.

Factvertising? Show me the money.
Obscuring the discussion of data-driven advertising is the term itself. Advertising has always been driven by data—in the form of observations made by creative talent. If the classic “Where’s the Beef?” campaign struck a chord in 1984, it had everything to do with the creative team’s ability to capture a previously observed personality type.

The consumer outrage expressed in the campaign is on display everywhere, no more so now than in the 1980s. But it took a creative imagination to repurpose this observation about human nature to support Wendy’s brand-value claims.

Essentially, the only thing that’s changed in the new paradigm is the source and detail of the data. Added to that, of course is the extra baggage of ideology, the idea that data-driven advertising is inherently better. But, as I see it, if Big Data is to have the predicted impact on consumers, we’ll need less mechanical applications than the “poll and comment” model on display at a microsite near you.

Synonymous with insight? Not so much.
One tenet of data-driven advertising is a commitment to develop creative concepts based on carefully- mined data. While that may make intuitive sense, the crux of the matter is what you mean by “based-on.” Should a data-driven headline contain a direct quote from a focus group attendee, or should the campaign’s creative environment capture the spirit, the atmosphere and emotional climate of the comment?

I vote for the latter. What matters is not what someone says, but the place their statement holds in their inner world. A consumer who says “I love Oreos” has something much more specific in mind than the statement itself suggests. Even the statement, “I love Oreos because they remind me of my childhood,” is only slightly less vague. We need to drill deeper to grasp the implications of that cookie. Was it the crunch, the filling—or the smile on Grandpa’s face as he sneaked you an extra one when Mom wasn’t looking?

How relevant? It’s relative.
Finally, let’s think carefully about the concept of Relevance. No matter how you slice it, relevance can only be defined contextually. So if data-diving tells you that a.) I like science fiction and b.) I’m looking to refinance my mortgage, you should think twice before sending me a message about mortgage rates while I’m trying to enjoy an episode of Battle Star Galactica on Hulu.

I mean, come on, I’m watching the show to relax; I’m not in the mood to think about interest rates or points, not to mention the hassle of fussing with the paperwork. Talking to me about refinancing in that context is like shouting into the wind. It is, in a word, irrelevant.

Ultimately, our current fascination with Big Data must be tempered with humanism, the sensitive, home-grown observations about human nature that creative artists have made for centuries. What motivates people? Look up from the spreadsheet, they’d tell you, and glance into the mirror. What you see there is the answer to every question about what drives people to respond to marketing stimuli.

Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY



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