Is social media advertising “interruption marketing?”

Photo: Dream  Credit: David Garzon
Photo: Dream Credit: David Garzon

Two seemingly contrasting articles came out yesterday about social media advertising.  On the one hand, Bloomberg reports that social media ad spending is likely to increase by 200% in the next four years.   In other news, the Wall Street Journal reports that GM is cancelling its $10 million ad spend on Facebook after determining it ineffective.  So what gives?

There’s a saying that I’m partial to: the tools may change but the rules stay the same.   Some people tout social media to be some revolutionary development and for the purposes of advertising its not.  In fact quite the opposite.  Social advertising platforms aren’t as refined as Google AdWords or traditional media but are predicated on the same concept.   Facebook positions its ads in way that they can be easily ignored (check out Google to understand how they’ve avoided this problem) and third party apps are so prevalent in Twitter that a person doesn’t have to use the actual Twitter app to get a lot out of the platform.  Same thing a little undercooked but there’s reason to believe that the platforms will mature (Facebook has 96 billion reasons, actually).

So why does Facebook have trouble with advertising and why is GM having trouble getting return on their investment in social?  Because by and large they are performing interruption marketing campaigns in the social space.  In Permission Marketing Seth Godin brought into the collective consciousness the idea that people are more receptive to marketing messages that they opt-into rather than those they don’t.   The mythology of social is that it is a space where the consumer provides tacit permission for marketing messages and the reality is that it performs about as predictably as any other media platform.   The average person is exposed to 2000 advertisements everyday and  a social ad simply becomes the 2001st ad impression a person sees.  That GM pulled ad budget from Facebook should be viewed no differently than if they pulled it from a network, but because of this mythological exceptionalism of social it becomes news.

So why would social ad spends escalate?  Just because social doesn’t work for GM in this space doesn’t mean it isn’t working for others (all creative is not great or even good).  Because there is ever increasing attention diverting from traditional media to social.  Because as the advertising noise gets louder the cost to cut through the noise increases.

What is lost in social advertising (and where the true opportunity may lie) is the core competency of social networks:  sociability.  Throwing traditional advertising (even the crazy creative stuff) into social and expecting a magnanimous outcome is silly, but there are plenty of local businesses that do exceptional D2C marketing through social and set themselves apart.  A business like GM could never get away with that, because you can’t measure ROI of (most) conversations.

With ROI the prevalent measure of campaign success, D2C may be a perpetual blind spot for big business and a huge opportunity for smaller businesses to outreach to their customers.

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Jim Dougherty

Jim Dougherty

Writer and chief of miscellany at
I'm the guy that wrote the article you just read. Sorry for the typos.