Advertising: starring social media

I’m sure you’ve noticed this, but the phenomenon of digital interactivity – and especially via social media – has become a pervasive theme in modern television advertising.  Everywhere you look, brands of all kinds are using dramatic setups in their spots that either include, focus on or ultimately lead to some kind of digital interactivity.

To clarify, this is not just listing all the places you can find the brand on social media with a tag at the end of the spots.  This is regarding the growing number of spots being ABOUT social media, and about our digital lives, and how the brands are woven into our modern lifestyles.

Survey Monkey, typically regarded as a b-to-b entity, has gone out with an appeal to the consumer audience, and claims that their platform can be used “for all kinds of things, including event planning.”  What I love about this spot is the way it’s contextualized (and well-directed, as the story bookends the extended spot) around the “original” survey model.  Molly leaves a note in little Johnny’s locker, handwritten with crayon:  Do you like me?  With two options:  Yes.  No.  Classic.

Now, obviously, it makes sense for any type of online platform to use the digital life as the basis for the creative.  Google has done this marvelously before in their search spots, and more recently in a spot for their Nexus 7 product, where they use the theme of “search” as the basis for interacting with their electronic gadget.  It’s good – and they touch the humanity button perfectly with good casting and a few carefully planned tugs at the heartstrings.

Samsung’s Galaxy S4, (whose advertising still confounds me, since they’re just marketing around features instead of trying to find differentiating benefits, but that’s another post,) has a new spot featuring a traveling baseball team.  A bored infielder is using the video capture on the device to film his sleepyhead travel companion.  As the nod-er-off-er’s head bounces, the video is captured, and the buddy starts to tool on the loop.

And that’s what’s interesting – the ad isn’t about the quality of the video the device provides, the number of megapixels on the device, or even the dopey “tap to share” feature on the device, but rather on the video loop that this kid will create with the device.  (A primary-grade-level feature on any smartphone today.)  Ostensibly, the owner of the Galaxy S4 in this case is merely considering what a great Vine upload this would be, or at the very least how many likes that GIF will get on Tumblr.  THAT’s the unspoken focus of this spot, and it marginalizes the brand in some ways, because you can do that with ANY bloody phone.

In another category altogether, Wendy’s has taken up the social-media-as-the-end-to-the-means with its latest spot for its chicken flatbread sandwich.  In the old days, we would have just created a situation-comedy style setup with the big laugh at the end and then a 6-second panning beauty shot of the sandwich.  Today, the dialogue and setup is totally based on social media:  male character walks in and starts the dialogue with “hey…you saw my post on this great bakery…” and then ends with him posting a pic of redheaded “Wendy” to Twitter. [They also tagged the spot with a hashtag #twEATfor1k.]

And it goes beyond fast food into several other categories.  One new car commercial (for Honda) touts its “the car reads your emails for you” feature, and positions it as a safety benefit.  Smart.  But stop and think about that for a moment:  the brand recognizes the need for us to stay connected to our digital lives, and has built in an e-mail reading feature into their vehicles, and is now running spots promoting that.  That goes way beyond MP3 players and partnering with Pandora for entertainment purposes.

Surveys.  Search.  Social media posts.  All taking a lead role in spots for big brands.  Going even further, many brands now are using crowdsourced images and videos as the visual basis for their ads. It’s an interesting paradox, or at least a healthy turnabout:  for years, brands have hoped to be discussed and passively promoted through social media and across the digital landscape.  Now, social media and the digital life are being actively promoted via brand advertising.

Facebook’s Mobile Phone: Three Reasons to “Unlike”

facebook-phone
Concept art courtesy of Gizmodo

Facebook is set to announce this Thursday the release of the Facebook Phone in partnership with HTC. According to the latest mobile report from The New York Times, the plans are to manufacture the first smartphone designed around the total social/sharing experience that Facebook enables. Maybe it’ll be called PhoneBook? Ugh.

On paper, it’s a really good idea. More than a billion people use Facebook on a regular basis to connect with friends, weigh in on political ideas, and just generally brag. And as it turns out, MOST of them are posting, liking and commenting from a mobile device.

However, this announcement is NOT on paper. It’s real. And on most levels, it’s kind of silly. Facebook has become one of the most visible, one of the most recognized, and one of the most important brands on the planet, (although, according to the stock price relative to the IPO, NOT one of the most valuable.)

And yet, with all the Stanford MBAs on staff in their marketing and operations departments, is there anyone there voicing an opinion that this is a thinly veiled brand extension that’s simply designed to appease shareholders with a strategy to create more revenue streams? Because, let’s face it folks, that’s what it is.

The subtext of the “exciting” and “new” direction for Facebook is to have another screen for advertising. Period. Facebook’s entire valuation was built – however hastily, however erred – on the idea that a billion+ eyeballs is a road paved with advertising gold. Add another screen, and you can charge another scale. The new rate card must be getting a design makeover just like the news feed.

But that road to gold, being paved this week with this mobile announcement, is pocked with obstacles. From a marketing perspective, these three obstacles indicate a likely FAIL and another rough year for Zuck & Co.

Obstacle #1: A partnership with a questionable partner.
Facebook is partnering with HTC, a manufacturer that, as of the end of 2012, has less than 5% of the total global smart phone market share. What’s worse, the HTC moniker is inextricably linked with another epic fail of corporate overreach, RIM, and the BlackBerry platform.

Why not partner with the #1 or #2 player? With the heft of Facebook, why not approach Samsung or Apple and design a custom “version” of their popular phones designed more smartly around the Facebook experience? The full version of Android (the HTC model is using a modified version of the system,) or iOS would provide more seamless integration into the consumer’s current mobile experience. Facebook is still acting like a startup strapped for cash, when it should be carrying itself with the mien that they ALREADY have a seat at the big boy table.

Obstacle #2: Consumer adoption.
Brand extensions are a dangerous proposition, even in the best-case scenarios. And in this case, (which is not the best case,) it’s super-duper dangerous. As it stands, the consumer already has the option to have a BETTER piece of hardware than HTC, (with S3 and the soon-to-be-the-most-popular-phone-on-the-planet S4 or any of Apple’s iPhones,) a BETTER piece of software via the Facebook app on either the Droid or iOS platform, and the chances are the consumer ALREADY owns a device she’s happy with.

So it’s highly unlikely that someone is going to rush out and buy an inferior piece of hardware, running an inferior operating system to run an OS that’s focused on a social network so they can take pictures and post status updates from their home screens. The rest of the world already does that with relative ease and great enthusiasm.

Obstacle #3: Increased operational workflow and costs.
As if Facebook doesn’t have enough going on internally, (acquisition plans, acquired partners spinning off, implementation of contextual advertising, implementation of graph search, etc.,) now they’ll have to add a bunch of new pieces. This might include a coding team to fix v.1 bugs, a customer service department devoted to mobile, internal teams to interface with HTC, a dev team to work on v.2 and beyond, marketing and advertising expenditures around the device, operations around packaging and distribution and on and on. Yeccchhh.

I’m no Stanford MBA, but when you have increased operational expenditures, increased marketing expenditures and are projecting – at best – to penetrate a 5% piece of the pie, chances are you’re going to have to dip into your pocket to support this new initiative with a boatload of short-term cash.

Zuck, here’s my advice. KILL this deal before it erodes the stock price and further erodes consumer perception about Facebook quickly becoming the “uncool” social platform.

Want some free ideas?

– Blame HTC as an unreliable partner.
– Cite your unusually high expectations for the platform as a reason to delay the rollout.
– Say you’re working on even bigger and better features and you think you’ll roll out by Christmas.

In the last year or so in Menlo Park, you’ve already misstepped with the privacy policy bungle, the pace of HTML 5 integration, un-hipping Instagram and more. Right now, you need some WINS. And acquiring Hot Studio last week is not what I mean.

Wanna have lunch?

This article first appeared on Technorati.

Samsung Galaxy S3 ads: a “touch” of tech FAIL

I’ve been seeing these Samsung Galaxy SIII commercials for months now.  You know, the one where two people “touch” phones and magically share stuff, like playlists or videos?  The first spot (not included here,) made its debut just prior to the release of the iPhone 5, and poked some good fun at Apple and their devotees waiting on long lines for the next great phone offering.  Samsung apparently has gotten good feedback from these spots, and they’ve rushed out several more.

Take a look:

And while I think they’re very good commercials (they each create a moment of drama centered around the product – that’s always good in advertising,) I’m just not sure it’s very good technology.

Let’s get this straight.  We’ve packed supercomputer technology (no really, the average smartphone today has more actual digital technology in its main chip than NASA – all of it combined – had at its disposal to launch the Apollo rocket into space,) into a tiny wireless device that fits in your pocket and runs practically all day on one battery charge.  With a smartphone, you can send a message – text, photo, video – INSTANTLY to your cousin in Kuala Lumpur (doesn’t everyone have a cousin there?) by pressing a few buttons.  [And actually – unless your name is Blackberry – there are no buttons!  It’s just glass with pictures of buttons! ]  With a smartphone, you can download music from the ether, and then listen to it in a matter of seconds.   With a smartphone, you can play an interactive video game, along with three friends in three different cities, in real-time.  And with these cooky add-ons called apps, you can harness vast amounts of neatly packaged information about whether or not your plane is on time, the history of nearly everything, how your stocks are doing and your absolute place in the world through a global positioning satellite.

So with ALL THAT technology literally and figuratively at your fingertips, are we supposed to be impressed that you can “touch” phones and share information?  Is that really a big deal?  Let me make it easy for you:  no, it’s not a big deal at all.

In fact, it’s counterintuitive.  For more on that, see my earlier post on Intuitive Marketing.  Because the very essence of having a wireless device is to figuratively “connect” you to people who are NOT close to you.  This idea of having to be in the same physical space as someone to enjoy the fullness of the phone is downright dopey.  It’s cheap.  It’s a throwaway feature that somehow got left in, and now Samsung is spending tens of millions of dollars trying to convince us how cool it is.   It’s not cool to touch phones.  Actually, I think it’s a little weird.  What’s next?  The Samsung Galaxy S4, now with WIRES to connect to every phone together?

Look in your own smartphone right now.  I’ll wait.  Of all your contacts, how many of them are within one square mile of where you are?  Not many, right?

So let me be very clear here as to why this advertising is twisting my knickers.  Samsung is essentially taking the LEAST useful, least helpful feature of their product and making it the MAIN focus of their advertising.  It’s like BMW running a complete campaign for their latest luxury model and focusing on the idea that you can roll down the windows with this neat little bar that you can insert into the door and turn it over and over again until the window is down.  Sure, the car’s got power windows that let you do that with the touch of a button, but LOOK!  You can roll it down by hand if you want! Ugh.

Lesson for all marketers, big and small:  be proud of your products, and celebrate them and their features through advertising.  But go to the HIGHEST value of your product (not the most gimmick-ey,) and start there.  Don’t beat us over the head with something that’s really not that important, or even really that cool, and then try to convince your audience that it is.  That’s not just bad advertising.  It’s bad business.

This article first appeared on Technorati.