Getting over ourselves, or why advertising works

AdvertisingI work in social media marketing, and as a result many more traditional marketers expect me to have a low opinion of  old school advertising – which is usually characterized by the “30 second spot.” It’s common to find social media purists decrying the state of marketing, knocking advertising as too interruptive, too noisy, disempowering of consumers, and in general a plague upon humankind.

It’s true, I do favor social as a marketing approach – but for those who mistake “social” as “marketing on Facebook,” it’s not about where you play. It’s more about how you play, and the philosophy of empowering consumers, trying to produce great experiences for them and do things on their terms, weaving yourself into the fabric of people’s existing lives in an appropriate and low-impact way. These two philosophies and how the people who espouse them approach social venues are summed up very well in this recent post from my colleague Jen Van Der Meer.

In her post, she refers to the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto, a seminal book that continues to define the social media side of the argument, admitting that they were wrong when they wrote “We are immune to advertising. Just forget it”:

“That was clearly wrong,” Locke said. “Advertising isn’t going to work? Yes, it can. Google is the biggest brand and company going and they’ve made it completely on Internet advertising, and so checkmate.”

I like that Locke admitted he was wrong, but Google seems like a weak concession. What about the billions of dollars still getting spent on TV, outdoor, even direct mail? Stuff much older than Google is still rocking along.

Why is that? And why does it appear that advertising in some form will always exist, until the end of time?

It’s because we need to be interrupted.

Most human beings are prone to routines. We find ruts and we get in them. It’s a natural mechanism that helps us cope with the risks in the world around us –  a deep survival instinct. Cavemen found the most sabre-tooth-tiger-free path from cave to water source and took that path every day, starting a chain of behaviors that would eventually lead to me taking the same way to work every day.

We even encourage routine in others because we need them to be predictable, to lessen the perceived risk in our world. Sure, there are some folks that are on the surface more adventurous than others, but even adventure can start to be a rut.

Advertising, in many cases, serves as the interruption that nudges you in a new direction. When this happens, we appreciate it, and so do the advertisers. Explore the wine country in Michigan? Sure, good idea. Enjoy a Stella Artois? Hmm, a beer does sound good this morning. Buy that Lexus and put a big bow on it? I was just trying to think what to buy the family for Christmas!

Ok, perhaps those examples are a bit over the top, and I do believe that advertising spend will be generally lower in the future. But regardless of the form it eventually takes, interruptive marketing will always have a place and will always work because we have to get over ourselves. We need the help. Without it, the world would be reaching out to us to try something new a lot less.

Why my grandfather gets social media

On a recent trip to Norman, Oklahoma to see my grandparents, my grandfather and I got into a conversation about where I work and “what I actually do.” I would highly recommend to anyone who works on the web to go through the exercise of explaining his or her job to the oldest person in his or her family. It’s a challenge that makes you strip what you do down to the bare essentials and explain things in plain language. This is something I wish more people did more of the time, particularly in the buzzwordy world of marketing.

Oddly enough, I found it was easier to explain social media and how you use it to market to people to him than it is with others.

Granddad, in the time when you grew up how did you decide who did business with? You listened to your friends, found trustworthy people who did great work, and you forged personal relationships with them over time, right? Well, once radio and then TV came on the scene, marketers found that it stopped being about who did the best job or who was the most trustworthy, and it became about who could spend the most money buying the most advertising. The people being advertised to lost all control. But now, people are using the Internet to communicate with each other, recommend things to each other, build relationships. People are taking back control. What I do is I help big companies who have spent 50 years living in the world of mass media understand how to function in that new world, which is really just a much bigger version of the old world.

My grandfather is nodding. He is over 80 and has been an independent oilman all his life. When he talks about the banker who backed him through his successes and failures he talks about a guy he knew personally, not an ATM. When he talks about anyone he ever handed money to, he talks about them by name and has at least one meaningful story about them – good or bad. He remembers the dawn of mass media, and watched as technology separated us from each other slowly over time. Now, in many ways, it’s bringing us back together. And while he still has an assistant who prints out emails so he can read them, he gets that.

The reason why I love working in social media is because I’m a part of that change. In some cases driving it, in other cases riding it, but always a part of the wave.

Have you ever had to explain what you do to someone much older than you and found yourself explaining it in better ways than you ever had before? Interested in hearing about it in the comments, if you are inclined.

Bookcrossing and shopdropping: real world social media

BookshelfOver the holidays I picked up on an NY Times article that talks about the practice of “shopdropping,” which seems to always spike during the holidays. Shopdropping is when people bring something into a retail establishment and add it to the inventory, intending to pass it off as a legitimate product. Motives range from the self-promotional (a musician or author adding their stuff to a shelf in a record or book store) to the political (activists leaving toys or shirts promoting their philosophy).

Today I found an item on bookcrossing, which is another “stuff left behind” practice where people leave a book they have read in a random location and then promote the location of the recently “released” book on various bookcrossing websites (the most popular of which is bookcrossing.com). When people see a released book near them they race out to “catch” it. It’s lending library meets scavenger hunt.

What struck me about both of these trends is the cultural change that underpins them – a change that seems at the very least reflected in the way the web is developing. On the web people used to be just be surfing the wave, now they are the wave – making real contributions to what the internet is through social media. And whether the web caused it or is just part of it, I think people are looking around at their lives in the physical world and starting to think about a store shelf, a retail space, or a book in a different way. The question is no longer what can I find here for me? It’s what can I add to this?

I think there are business opportunities here. Retail businesses that increasingly focus themselves on a consumer’s desire to not just be a consumer, but also to be a contributor, could find themselves with many more, and more loyal, customers.