Advertising: Still not working in the 21st Century

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Five years ago I threw out a statement in a blog about how Facebook gets content, that caused a bit of a stir.  I said, “Advertising doesn't work the way you think it does.”  No one commented on the focus of the post, just on that statement.  They didn’t like it.  They were mostly advertising people and a few B2B marketers.  A few things have happened in 2014 that makes me want to restate my position (not change it) and get a little deeper.


Advertising does not work the way you think it does, especially in the 21st Century.  


In the “Facebook Fraud” video, by Derek Muller of the science blog Veritasium, Muller makes the claim that pretty much all the business engagement you get from Facebook is bogus.  For the most part, he’s right because most people use Facebook as though it were a magic marketing box.  They believe that all they have to do is plug in pictures and content about their product and services and the world will be beating down they doors. 


Then came the story late in February of a fashion magazine publisher who spent the equivalent of the GDP of an African nation on Facebook advertising only to get virtually zero return in sales.  So Muller was right?  Nope.


Muller accurately states that Facebook advertising based on likes doesn’t worki, but he makes they wrong assumption that it’s the fault of Facebook.  It isn’t, though.  It’s the fault of the user.  


There was a time that you could flood a media channel with advertising messages and create a significant return on your investment if that investment was in the 100s of millions of dollars.  When the ‘net and social media arrived, the cost dropped to the 10s of thousands of dollars and the marketing/advertising world thought they had found a gold mine.  It hasn’t panned out and everyone wants to blame the medium and the agencies who helped you develop and disseminate content


When you could hammer your message into the skulls of the customers through a relatively few media channels, all of which were owned by a small group of corporations, you would be right.  Today, however, those customers have more opportunity to ignore those messages than ever before.  They hate advertising and they avoid it whenever possible.  If they liked your messages, they wouldn't buy streaming media devices, DVRs and initiate polo-up blockers on their browsers.  You can’t pound the message into their heads anymore.  You have to get them to ask for it.


Advertising can establish brand awareness… unless you don’t understand branding then it fails and most marketers, especially in B2B niches, don’t. Advertising also reinforces a decision a customer has already made, which is a double-edged sword.  If a customer has decided to buy your product it speeds up their action.  If the customer has already purchased the product and is happy about it, advertising makes them feel good about their decision and builds a desire to continue doing business with you.  But if the customer has had a bad opinion of you at the start of the decision process, advertising only serves to piss the customer off and makes them actively campaign against you.


The thing marketers want advertising to really do, produce sales, it doesn’t do very well at all, unless you are trying to sell boner pills or “natural” cures for obesity, and that only works on impotent fat people.  


Social media is not advertising.  It isn’t marketing.  It is communication.  It is conversation.  And no one truly likes to talk to someone who only talks about themselves.  That was the mistake the fashion designer made when he tried to run an ad campaign through Facebook. He only talked about himself and his product.  He paid anonymous people, unwittingly, in third-world click farms, to boost his profile on Facebook and then provided nothing but advertising messages that no one wanted to listen to about products they had no interest in.


Muller was right because social media is filled with narcissists who want to talk about themselves.  Some of them will actually pay people to boost their content, and when you pay people to listen to you, they will and smile.  But if you really want attention from your customers, you have to pay attention to what they say.  Tell them what they want to hear.  And if you do it well, maybe that might be willing to listen to what you have to say.


Advertising doesn’t work… the way you think it does.  Don’t change the medium you use.  Change the way you think.