Ad Campaigns Are Dead

How the Social Filter is Making the Campaign Mentality Obsolete

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We can all agree that we're increasingly social and because of that , the tables have turned. Power has shifted away from brands to consumers. If you have any doubt, consider two recent announcements: Facebook doubling its revenue the first half of the year to $1.6 billion and Nielsen's "State of Social" report that reinforces the massive amount of time spent interacting in online social environments.

If you told Don Draper that campaigns as he knew them would die in his lifetime, he would have fired you. Even today, in 2011, after being hit over the head with consumer empowerment, the ad industry is still reluctant to face a very stark reality: it's no longer the advertiser that controls the message, it's the recipient. The social consumer is so much more multi-dimensional than a seasonal retail push. But don't take my word for it, just ask the Back-to-School advertisers fighting over the .10 percent of ad impressions that actually get clicked.

Suddenly, it's no longer about the "campaign." Rather, it's about understanding the social influence of your own loyal consumers. What are these people interested in, what are they actually buying, and how can they be turned into a word-of -mouth marketing powerhouse? Advertisers have always known that an endorsement from a trusted source is the most powerful marketer. Just now they are coming to understand that they can decipher, court, and empower their "socially-influential" customers to do just that —a much more rewarding enterprise than simply trying to move a widget.

Campaigns may be dying; but brand-initiated "movements" are just getting warmed up. This holiday season, as retailers clamor for each and every dollar, bold brands will be launching holiday "movements" instead of the staid, expected campaigns of yesteryear. The day after Thanksgiving, smart marketers will care more about knowing how to motivate the customers they acquire to spread the word to others, as opposed to simply closing one transaction. In turn, these brands are tackling big questions:

  • Are advertising campaigns motivating this kind of wildfire word-of -mouth marketing? Consumers have more control than ever over the types of ads they receive, so they better be compelling. For example, Google now enables consumers to select the type of video ads served to them. Taking this user-autonomous philosophy a step further, do your ads contain "viral" elements that truly compel the recipient to share them?
  • How do we leverage the powerful connection between friends online and offline? For example: we know Starbucks' 23 million Facebook Fans pale in comparison to the number of those same Facebook Fans' friends: 670 million.
  • How do we capture all of this insight and social behavior that goes well beyond traditional measurement (age/gender)? For instance, savvy marketers will begin to look at ways in which their advertising influences emotional engagement as well as offline behavior, such as in-store purchases.
  • How do we translate a simple "Like" to participation into a full-blown, captivating movement? We now have predictive and analytical tools that enable brands to better understand the social web. With this we can go beyond a "Like," and instead directly reach pockets of the most influential people in a more multidimensional, relevant way. The movement then spawns through real-time analytics and reporting on metrics that business have been trying to reach for over 50 years.

Marketers can't afford to ignore the social dimensions and interests of their customers. Frankly, it's irresponsible and leads to a host of undesirable consequences:

  • Massive media waste: Marketers are paying to retarget the same people multiple times, which produces media waste and substantially throws off attribution modeling.
  • Limiting scale/potential: By simply retargeting the same people repeatedly, you miss out on growing your next most profitable customers. In some cases this newly expanded pool can be 60X the original audience size.
  • Buying the easiest, lowest hanging (media) fruit: Taking the generic route and buying in scale from trusted sites won't always get you the highest impact for your dollars. In other words, you won't get fired for buying Facebook, but it doesn't truly represent where the majority of consumers' online interactions are occurring.

From now on, brands must start with a marketing lynchpin of "who" versus the "what." By examining your business through a social filter, you'll not only cultivate social awareness, you will bring the inherent power of your brand graph into fruition; the ability to sell more during the holidays and to cast an even wider net for future sales.

Eric Wheeler is the CEO and co-founder of 33Across, a social targeting firm. Prior to 33Across, he was the CEO of Neo@Ogilvy and Executive Director of Ogilvy Interactive North America.
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