May 23, 2012
Chasing moving targets.
By Peter M. De Lorenzo
(Posted 5/21, 5:00 p.m.) Detroit. Much hand-wringing ensued last week after GM marketing chief Joel Ewanick pulled the plug on GM’s paid advertising on Facebook – to the tune of $10 million – even though lost in that story was the fact that GM is still spending upwards of $30 million on developing content for its four divisions on the social media juggernaut. This decision was the direct result of meetings in which Facebook executives were unconvincing in their pitch to GM as to the real world effectiveness and value of the paid advertising component on their website.
Was it a surprise? Not really. Even though Facebook’s 900 million plus members is the largest gathering of people in one place on the Internet, whether or not that means anything when it comes to actual advertising effectiveness (beyond the group hugging, of course) is not easily quantified, which was GM marketing’s point.
Ford operatives immediately responded (via social media, of course) intimating that perhaps GM didn’t know how to use Facebook and that Ford remains “all in” when it comes to its belief in social media. This was as to be expected, since Ford and Chevy regularly lob grenades at each other across town through the media, social or otherwise.
But what is really going on here? The automobile companies, like all of corporate America, are trying to make the social media space work for them. Some are more successful than others, but I wouldn’t say any of them have “mastered” the art of using social media by any means. Why? Because the target keeps changing.
As ubiquitous as Facebook is now, how long will it remain that way? Or has the site Pinterest already eclipsed it in terms of insider buzz-worthiness? So that’s what was going on when GM marketers questioned Facebook executives as to the effectiveness of the site’s paid ads. GM marketers asked – and rightly so, I might add – are we buying “air” or what? And apparently Facebook execs didn’t have the answers to that question. At least none that justified throwing any more money at Facebook’s paid ad content.
There’s something else at play here as well. The domestic auto companies have been saddled with the terminally un-hip moniker for decades now, so they are in a constant struggle to prove themselves as buzz-worthy. The U.S.-owned car companies jump in to almost any social media apparatus that they can get their hands on because they’re desperately afraid that if they don’t that they will miss a golden wave, or even worse, be labeled as being woefully out of touch.
And true to form, as soon as GM marketers had the temerity to suggest that the paid advertising on Facebook didn’t justify the expense, a cadre of ad “experts” (and certain gleeful competitors) pounced and proclaimed that GM was in fact, too stupid to understand.
Except that an interesting thing happened. A great wave of unsolicited support sprung from the ad community suggesting that GM marketing wasn’t necessarily off-base at all, that Facebook had not, in fact, proved the worthiness of its paid ad content, despite its all-knowing and all-everything presence in the social media space. This is kind of a big deal to the ad biz, as you might imagine. Ad agencies and their media components are constantly called on to justify the money spent by their corporate advertiser clients, right down to the where and the how and the why, not to mention the how much. So to them it’s a fair ask of Facebook or any other socialista site of the moment, as in, what are we getting for our money, exactly?
So where does that leave this discussion? The auto companies that have willed themselves to believe in the effectiveness of the social media space will insist that it’s damn near the only game in town. That to not be there is to fail to leverage the vast collection of eyeballs consuming content at a dizzying rate, which is akin to committing marketing suicide. To them it’s about crafting image at every turn and influencing the buzz-worthiness of their products by association, even if traditional measures of ROI aren’t being answered.
And that’s all well and good, because for them not being where the perceived action is almost far too painful to contemplate.
But there will also be companies that march to a different drummer, ones that ask the hard questions as to the effectiveness of whatever the social media flavor of the moment is. These companies are likely to zig while the others are zagging in their quest to find the right balance between buzz-worthiness and actual real live ad effectiveness.
Is there a hard-and-fast answer to this constantly shifting, billion-dollar question? No. When you’re dealing with a kaleidoscope of media avenues, everything from the social hub of the moment to the remaining Big Ticket live television events like the Super Bowl and the Olympics (just to name two), it’s simply impossible to come up with one single media plan that will satisfy the realities of marketing cars and trucks to the masses.
And despite all of the hand-wringing over this the fact remains that without credible and desirable products to begin with, these car companies are dead in the water no matter what media space they choose to operate in.
It’s all about the product, just as it always has been and always will be. And even more so it’s about creating a fundamental desire for that product, even in this vacuous era we live in today.
And that’s the High-Octane Truth for this week.
May 23, 2012