Monday, December 29, 2008

Brand banner advertising: does it work on social networks?

Life would be terribly easy if banners and islands and rollovers just let us get on with making the usual ads. Shiny readers would flock to them in their droves, merrily clicking and willingly absorbing brand messages before going off and buying the glittery items in the shops - or even better, online! Clients would worship us and the agency reception would again be a place of bright-eyed wonder for the client's junior brand manager and bicycle courier alike.

But internetland and adland speak different languages. People are on the net increasingly for social reasons, which is what gives Facebook 140 million members. Their eyes glaze over your twinkly little banner ad with its kerb-crawl promise of happiness. It's not what they came here for.

That doyen of print media, The New York Times, seems a little bit too smug when it points this out in a fairly unambivalent article by Randall Stross. He doesn't glean any real insight directly from either of the two key players: giant advertiser Procter and Gamble, or giant social medium Facebook. Some salient items:

  • Seth Goldstein, co-founder of SocialMedia Networks, an online advertising company, wrote on his Facebook blog that a banner ad “is universally disregarded as irrelevant if it’s not ignored entirely.”

  • IDC, the technology research firm, published a study last month [Nov 08] that reported that just 3 percent of Internet users in the United States would willingly let publishers use their friends for advertising. The report described social advertising as “stillborn.”

  • All Web sites that rely on ads struggle to a greater or lesser extent to convert traffic, even high traffic, into meaningful revenue. Google’s own YouTube, which relies heavily, like Facebook, on user-generated content, remains a costly experiment in the high-traffic, low-revenue ad business.

  • At a conference last month [Nov 08] sponsored by the Advertising Club of Cincinnati, Ted McConnell, manager of interactive marketing and innovation at P.& G., said, “I really don’t want to buy any more banner ads in Facebook.”

  • Brand advertisers on Facebook can try one of two new approaches. They can be more intrusive, but the outcome will not be positive. Or they can create genuinely entertaining commercials, but spend ungodly sums to do so.

When the nation's tea drinkers almost collapsed the national grid by jumping up en masse to pop the kettle on during the commercial break in Eurovision 1980, they weren't all that bothered to be missing the ads. They knew that they were all facebooking with Johnny Logan, right there for real by God. They needed that cup a tay just to handle the ferocious international political pressure of it all, and no shagging Cadet Lemonade ad was going to distract them.

Plus ça change...

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