The Five Biggest Digital Marketing Cliches

Why Marketers Use Them, Why They Often Don't Work and What to Do Instead

By Published on .

Mark Cregar
Mark Cregar
Once upon a time -- say, 2002 -- digital spending was a negligible portion of total marketing budgets and we lived in a world where few marketers would dare go "beyond the banner." Fast-forward to 2008, and in some cases we have the opposite problem. Digital spending is still too low, but in the spirit of wanting to appear current, some marketers have rushed to embrace any and every new digital tactic.

This has resulted in a scenario where some digital tactics are dangerously close to "jumping the shark." Everyone is doing them, so they're not original anymore. They generally are not done well (i.e., in a way that builds brand equity, awareness or sales), and they may be so commonplace that rather than making a brand seem current or hip, they have the opposite effect.

Here are my top five:

The Social Network Page
The offense: In 2006 every brand had to have a MySpace page; now they have an equally urgent need for a Facebook page. The result is usually the equivalent of an online ad hidden within the vast reaches of a social network, adding little value to consumers or the brand.
The offenders: A look at a few major consumer brands (Sprite, Skippy Peanut Butter, Gatorade) shows Facebook pages with little more than a boilerplate brand description and a link to the corporate URL. It looks like some marketing departments have been on a friend collection tear, though. These dull profiles mysteriously seem to attract thousands of "friends," though wall posts number in the low double digits, suggesting very low engagement.
They might try: Building a profile that reflects a brand's unique provenance, personality or benefits. Brand groups agonize over building and evangelizing the perfect brand persona. Here's a chance to showcase all that hard work.

The Second Life Storefront
The offense: Countless companies have set up storefronts in this media-genic virtual world. But high development costs ($100,000 to as much as $5 million), high maintenance requirements and low overall usage (about 30,000 visitors at any given time) have produced lukewarm results. Hence, Second Life's recent ranking by marketers as the most overhyped trend of 2007.
The offenders: Apparel retailers such as American Apparel, Nike and Reebok; auto companies, such as Nissan; and hotels, such as Starwood's Aloft brand have all jumped in. 1-800-Flowers.com even hired a specialized agency to market their storefront, but still garnered fewer than 1,000 visitors.
They might try: Incorporating their brands into much simpler, mass market digital activities like casual games. Some are played millions of times and let you measure engagement more specifically than ever.

The Online Ad Contest
The offense: Who needs creatives -- or even a creative strategy -- when you can crowdsource your ads? Aside from the obvious strategy and quality issues, the tactic suffers from ubiquity and anemic entry numbers (rarely more than a hundred or two).
The offenders: Budding commercial auteurs must be feeling pretty exhausted these days after entering videos for Doritos, Chevrolet, the NFL, Country Music Television, Nikon, Malibu Rum, Heinz, Dove, Firefox, Converse, MasterCard, Sunkist and Coors Light -- to name a few.
They might try: Using those masses to get feedback on a spot that is at least on strategy, regardless of where it came from. Anyone who has sat through a focus group knows that consumers are much better at responding to marketing than creating it themselves.

The Social Network
The offense: Why have a Facebook page when you can have a Facebook? Marketers attempt to build fanatical followings for their brands by establishing their own social networks around them. Problem is, social networks don't create brand passion -- they can only leverage passion that already exists.
The Offenders: Do you have the need to build a profile around your menstrual cycle? Kotex thinks so, and responds with not one but two social networks (one for girls, one for women). You can also build a profile on sites from Neutrogena, Saturn and -- watch out, LinkedIn -- HSBC Bank, which lets you build a profile to "tap into the expertise of your fellow entrepreneurs." Even the megabrands rarely generate more than 1,000 to 2,000 profiles (HSBC has about 300), so users should expect to be a part of a pretty tight little clique.
They might try: Think about first building passion for the brand through dull, old-school tactics like stellar customer service, product innovation and compelling marketing. Then marketers are permitted to build that social network. For a good example, see Mini Cooper. Until then, most brands can make do with simpler tactics like message boards and e-newsletters.

The Online Branded Entertainment Series
The offense: Since 30-second spots haven't worked for years, marketers have decided to create their own entertainment with online webisodes, series and animated shorts, subtly or not-so-subtly weaving in their brands. Trouble is, even entertainment made to entertain (e.g., TV shows) more often than not misses the mark -- so it's doubly difficult to create something that will be compelling and sell your brand. As a result, most of this entertainment fails to entertain.
The offenders: Bud.TV decided to pull back after a very costly investment in its own branded entertainment portal. Toyota's iflookscouldkill.com series makes me long for the Toyotathon spots of yesteryear.
They might try: I'd suggest either integrating your brand into something already interesting (e.g., Stride Gum's sponsorship of the Matt Harding dance video) or just giving proven creative types free rein (BMW film series) and see what happens.

I applaud the spirit of experimentation, and no doubt all of the above "offenders" have learned something from their efforts. And there's really no such thing as a bad marketing tactic -- just bad timing, bad execution or simply a bad brand fit. All good things that marketers might want to think about before plunging into the next digital marketing trend.

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Mark Cregar is president-principal of Emerging Marketing Consulting. He has held senior-level marketing posts at Disney, Warner Bros., Coca-Cola and Nabisco. His views on digital marketing trends can be found at www.emergingmarketing.blogspot.com.
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