Lies, Damn Lies And Social Media

Lies, Damn Lies And Social Media

In his latest column, B&T regular Robert Strothfeldt from Strothfeldt Consulting, opines if you bother to look at the facts then “new media’s” message often plays with the truth…

B&T Magazine
Posted by B&T Magazine

“Money doesn’t talk; it swears:” Bob Dylan

I keep reading that the media pendulum is starting to swing back to traditional media and that some (unfortunately not nearly enough) people in our industry are conceding that social media and advertising in it, has been vastly over rated.

To quote Peter Field, the British marketing consultant, “Advertisers have been seduced by a propaganda assault on traditional media spread by an immensely well- funded digital machine”.

Of course, it is the digital revolution and you have to “get digital or get lost”. The fact that TV and radio are digital, newspapers and magazines are increasingly read on tablets/laptops etc. and digital signage is a huge growth area is overlooked.

The Google/Facebook duopoly has been able to both buy and seduce on a level never seen before. I suppose if your stock was over-valued to a point where a correction would be nearly as calamitous as the Wall Street meltdown in 2008, you would do all you can to keep the false value high.

We have lost the art of strategic brand building and rely on short term promotions – because they are what works best on these flaky platforms.

We talk about Big Data, but our media shops don’t seem capable of anything much beyond primary school maths. The measurements to justify ludicrously low CPMs should have been called for what they are – Bullshit, a long time ago.

A report by the Wall Street Journal has estimated Facebook has over- estimated the average time spent watching video by a staggering 80 per cent. FMD! And still, our industry pushes Facebook and Google and lets them measure their own performance, with only a whisper of disapproval.

What do our media “leaders “say about the flaky measurements? “We are not surprised” and it was a “Careless mistake.”  (A huge fucking rip-off is more like it) But “After careful review we have determined that this error has no impact on the pricing and audience delivery of our campaigns.”. Of course.

“Here is your campaign performance – plus or minus 80 per cent. But we keep that juicy 20 per cent commission thank you, because the price is not affected”. Have to go, off the lunch/dinner/a show (put favourite past time in here) with Google/Facebook.

In a series of articles recently on Existential Threat to advertising agencies, Credibility and Remuneration were listed as two of the four major threats (Along with Identity and Competition).

When such a significant proportion of a media agencies revenue is linked to commissions, the question of “how objective is the advice and recommendations?” must be asked This is not confined to advertising, but any business whose major stream is derived from commissions.

The financial planning industry was subject to heavy criticism after a number of property financial products failed. Small “Mom & Pop” investors were wiped out. Instead of providing solid, objective advice, these unsophisticated but trusting “investors” had 80 per cent or more of their savings tied up in these products, rather than having their money spread across a number of areas to minimise risk.

A post mortem revealed they were presented to the clients as being almost zero risk, but high return. (Which goes against the basic laws of nature). It was revealed that the financial planners involved were receiving commissions of up to 20 per cnet from these high risk “products”. And to make matter worse, they received their commissions upon the signing up of the poor, unsuspecting client. The planners got their dough. The investors got screwed.

Even if a person believes they are providing objective advice, many studies over many years by psychologists have consistently shown that a person is more likely to believe in something that benefits them. They search for evidence to support their hypothesis i.e. commissions can lead to skewed advice, even if unintentional.

Irrespective of the area of the practise, being “seen to do the right thing is almost equally important as “doing the right thing”.

I have quoted Professor Mark Ritson on a number of occasions. He was the first high profile marketing academic to draw attention to the inadequacies and inaccuracies of social and online media measurements and impact, relative to mainstream.  For quite some time he was a lone voice.  I have worked with quite a number of marketing academics and they all have one thing in common – their advice is objective.  Academic is also somewhat misleading as they all have provided consulting to the both the private and public sector i.e. it is not just theory. They put their thoughts into practice and they are not beholden to a third party for their fees.

His most recent column in The Australian Media section last Monday highlighted how even the biggest and most respected advertisers can become ensnared in the question of conflict of interest.

At a conference at the Hordern Pavilion in Sydney, attended by the cream of the Australian marketing industry, Telstra’s Chief Marketing Officer extolled the virtues of YouTube, detailing the role it played in the outstanding success of their new “Thrive On” campaign. It was described as the most successful in Telstra’s history. (Though I am not quite sure how this was measured).

It received 1.5 million views on YouTube. It was emphasised that 60 per cent of theses viewers did not switch off after three seconds, but saw it through to the end i.e. 900,000 people.

As well as the numbers generated by YouTube, the value was highlighted with a CPM of just $9 compared to $23 for FTA TV.

All sounds great. But Ritson applied a bit of basic maths and looked at the whole picture.

  • Getting 900,000 people to look at an advertising video is not to be sneezed at, but this equates to just 5 per cent of Telstra’ 17 million customers all of whom were “invited”, via email, to view it.
  • These views were totalled over a two-month period.
  • After just one week, Telstra’s ad had 10 million impressions on TV. Over two months that figure was around 90 million
  • Most viewers saw it more than the effective 3 times frequency on TV.
  • Comparing the two, 98 per cent of the video views were on TV and just over 1 per cent on YouTube

But the role TV played in the campaign was not recognised. To any impressionable person in the audience, YouTube was the hero and TV was yesterday’s hero. It is hard to put an accurate percentage on this, but I would guess that well over half of the audience started their careers in the “digital era” and have fed and believed that online and social as the future believe that time spent understanding traditional media is time wasted – we have a whole generation of marketers who have been brain washed.

As an aside, Senator Dastyari, the Labor Senator who was recently forced to resign for accepting money from Chinese businesses (and by extension, the Chinese government), is the darling of the young progressives. He named his 10 most evil companies – no surprise it was made up of the 4 big banks, the 3 big miners, Coles, Woolworths and Telstra. He did not nominate Apple, Google or Facebook. They are technology companies (well, Facebook and Google really are media companies, but to concede this would seriously cramp their style by having to work within the same constrictive legislative framework as the traditional media companies.).  The point – no one in our industry wants to be seen as living in the past. Facebook and Google (outside of their search business) do not come in for anything but the most cursory of scrutiny.

Telstra generates around $9 billion annually from video streaming, of which $1.9 billion comes from YouTube.

So there is a bloody big conflict of interest happening here. But the problem is it is not just “here” but occurring all through the industry.

Is it any wonder so much money has been poured into social and online advertising? One of the largest advertisers in the country is essentially lauding YouTube as the major driver of their most successful campaign ever. And our largest media buyers are shrugging their shoulders and saying “Oh, well, it doesn’t really change anything”, when Facebook is accused of inflating their video watching time by up to 80 per cent. If that figure was say 10 per cent, such a response would be understandable, but 80%?

The old question springs to mind “Is it incompetence, or is it corruption”?

No wonder advisory and management consulting firms are increasingly becoming threats. PwC recently produced research for their clients saying advertising agencies can no longer be relied upon to communicate with a diverse society, as the majority of creative directors are male, white and middle class and hence lack the empathy required.

Twenty years ago it would have been unheard of for a firm, who started out as chartered accountants, to be commenting on our core “product” – creative.

But these guys have the ear of the CEOs and boards.  It won’t be long before many start asking, “So if advertising agencies can longer be relied upon to create relevant communications, who can we rely upon”?

And they will smile and say “Us”.