Why Brands Spend Too Much On Social Media: Emotion Tops Logic

Concept of coins and notes going down the drain.  Isolated on white.

In this guest post, Strohfeldt Consulting founder and creative director, and advertising veteran, Robert Strohfeldt has a bone to pick with brands who insist on wasting their time with social media.

Professor Mark Ritson has been causing quite an uproar lately (or using today’s terminology “disruption”) by his claim that social media is overrated. He has since ratchetted up the emotion in the debate by stating marketers who rely on social media are “poorly trained idiots“.

Using a line from old spaghetti westerns “Thems fighten words”. Proponents of social media read his comments and arc up. I think it is a deliberate ploy by Ritson, because it is emotion that has driven social media to the heights it has now attained within the marketing and advertising worlds. (As opposed to any cold, objective logic).

The over emphasis on social media has been the elephant in the room for quite a number of years now. Finally, someone has come out and laid bare the facts. Ritson spells out very clearly why he takes this stance in his presentation in Canada late last year. (Though in Canada, he uses Australian examples and the principals apply equally here).

Before saying “bullshit”, have a look at his presentation. He quantifies what so many have garnered anecdotally, but have been reluctant to comment on and exposes the many myths about social media.

I doubt there is anyone in the industry who does not know about the “legendary” Oreo tweet during the 2013 Super Bowl broadcast blackout? I have lost count of the number of times I have read about “striving to create their own Oreo moment”.

Well, the “Tweet that was heard around the world”, was in fact seen by around 65,000 people. Or just 0.02 per cent of Oreo’s customer base. This was deemed to have “beaten” a well- crafted 60 second Budweiser TVC, which was seen by 50 million viewers. Yep, 65,000 versus 50 million is now deemed a ‘victory”. It achieved bugger all, except for a swag of awards. (More people in the advertising industry saw the tweet than existing and potential customers).

But you don’t need deep and meaningful statistical analysis to come to the conclusion that social media is overrated. Sure, it has been one of the most far reaching phenomena in human history. But it is SOCIAL media. It is about people, not brands.

Shane Warne has some 2.6 million Twitter followers. No brand in Australia comes close to that number. Ritson notes that as a relatively unknown marketing professor in Canada, he has more Twitter followers than the top 10 Canadian brands combined.

There is much talk about advertising being dead, or on its last legs. So people don’t like ads, but they will go to a brand’s Facebook page and read, sorry, engage with, the “content”? What a croc!

Well, they may enjoy the content, but it will have stuff all to do with the product or brand the Facebook page is for. Pick any big brand’s Facebook page and check out the number of people who view, like, or share. And of course, some of these figures go back for five, six or more years.

If people don’t like ads, why do TV programmes featuring “world’s funniest/best commercials” rate so highly? They don’t like shitty ads. But great creative always has and always will cut through.

And with the social media presence, brands are becoming anthropomorphic – acting as if a person, with the goal of building “relationships” with consumers. We are starting to take ourselves way too seriously. What’s next – online Dorothy Dix advice for brands?

  • Should I expose my label on our first date?
  • What if he/she is seeing another brand?
  • Ten tips when meeting the family

Or Agony Aunt for people on how to “engage” with brands?

  • My favourite brand passed away six months ago. Is it too soon to start seeing other brands?
  • My favourite brand gets jealous so easily. How can I tell them I am only friends with these other brands?
  • How do I know when I am ready to settle down with just one brand? I can’t help myself when I see an attractive brand.

I am being a tad harsh. There are a number of areas in which social media can play an important role – market research, local area marketing for franchised retail chains, tactical promotions etc. But it is definitely not for front line strategic brand and image building. And depending upon the type of business, social media will be more useful than for others e.g. fashion.

But most of the “literature” takes a one size fits all approach.

But as Ritson points out in his presentation, social media comprises 45 per cent or more of the coverage in major industry publications, as opposed to around eight per cent of advertising budgets. While over 50 per cent of editorial talks about the death of traditional media.

The lack of recognition of the strength and relevance of mainstream media is a major issue. A colleague referred to this as marketing fashion over function – traditional media is old fashioned. Many marketers want the latest, shiny new tools, even if their reach and effectiveness is questionable at best.

A recent example comes in an article I saw had the headline “Young Viewers Switch Off TV”. The “doom and gloom” figures are in bold. Nearly one in five of 14 to 24 year olds don’t watch any Free to Air TV. That could be written as “Over 80 per cent of 14 to 24 year olds still watch Free to Air TV”. Conclusion. Free to Air still most single powerful advertising medium.

You get the idea. The industry is inundated with stories on how wonderful social media is and traditional media is all but dead. Ritson also points out the ludicrous situation where two thirds of marketing directors/managers surveyed are unsure of their ROI from social media, yet two thirds say they intend to increase their social budget. Can you imagine that happening for any other form of media?

The media landscape has changed dramatically over the past 20 years and become far more fragmented, so logic dictates that an integrated approach is now critical, unavoidable. But even so, a brand (B2C) of any significance can survive without social media, but not traditional media advertising. (Apple, as an example, didn’t do too badly).

It is 2016, not 2026. Plan for the future but live in the present. As mentioned previously, it is emotion driving the social media circus. The people who work in social media, be it agency or client side, are of course strongly emotively attached to social media. It is their livelihood and in most cases, probably all, an integral part of their everyday life.

Call anyone a fool and you are liable to get a negative reaction. Call someone a fool because of their love for and involvement in a particular pursuit and you can expect a strong reaction. No other form of advertising medium has ever, or does now, involve the practitioner in such a manner – they don’t just “work on it”, “they live in it.”


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