Online advertising must drive audiences to engagement on topics they care about2012-05-29
The Pitch, AMC’s reality series that pits two advertising agencies in a pitch for business, isn’t what you’d call a ratings success. In its last outing, the show drew about 340,000 viewers. (Compare that to The History Channel’s Ax Men, which attracted 10 times that number.)
It’s tough to sell advertising for a series few people are watching, but Muse Communications—one of the agencies competing on the show—bought the time to air this ad:
Muse, a Culver City, California-based agency run by Jo Muse—an African American—specializes in campaigns that target diversity markets. The commercial was designed to raise the visibility of the issue of diversity hiring in the industry and inspire conversation. In a heartfelt statement, Muse told AdAge, ” It’s time the public felt the outrage of these people who, even now, can’t find a job in this business, much less move up to the executive ranks.” But the ad also doesn’t hurt Muse from a business perspective. A lot of people who had never heard of the agency now are aware of it, its capabilities and its diversity focus.
An image from the ad is among the revolving screens on the agency’s homepage, joining shots from Muse’s client efforts.
The spot reminds me of Don Draper’s letter, published in a newspaper, explaining why the fictitious Mad Men agency, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, was quitting tobacco. Like the Muse commercial, the letter isn’t selling anything or representing a client, but rather raising awareness of an issue. There’s a certain synchronicity between the Draper letter and the Muse spot, since The Pitch follows Mad Men in AMC’s Sunday night lineup.
As I read articles and posts about the Muse ad, I kept thinking about GM’s decision to withdraw from Facebook advertising based on the widely-shared view that Facebook advertising doesn’t work. Facebook has a clickthrough rate on its display ads of only 0.5% (compared to Google’s .4%).
I can’t remember where I read that blaming Facebook for this is like blaming the Internet for the poor performance of an e-commerce website. The problem isn’t Facebook. The problem is your ad. Looking at Facebook now, I see ads for laptops that invite me to enter a contest, a custom app developer inviting me to play a game (which I have to “like” before I can play), a politician who wants me to “like” his election page in order to have a conversation about Medicare, a ticket reseller alerting me that the L.A. Kings have made the Stanley Cup Western Conference Finals (I don’t watch hockey) and one inviting me to visit California (I’m in California).
All of these ads are fairly traditional. Instead of calling an 800 number, I’m asked to like a page, but otherwise they’re in-your-face promotions for products. The ads that get clicks are those that understand why people spend time on Facebook and the kinds of ads that will capture their attention. Rather than pitch a Mustang, for example, Ford Motor Company positioned an ad on the Facebook logout screen inviting people to play a game (via an app) that let them not only design their own virtual Mustangs but also challenge their friends to come up with the coolest design.
The app’s availability was reinforced with Facebook Sponsored Stories and Twitter Promoted Tweets, along with homepage takeover ads on Yahoo and elsewhere. A deal with inflight WiFi provider Gogo offered free inflight access to Facebook to passengers who customized a Mustang via the app.
Did it work? “We put a goal of 2 million customized Mustangs out there,” Social and Emerging Media Director Brian McLary told ClickZ last November. “I am pretty confident we’re going to beat that goal. We’ve seen an increased amount of site traffic to the Mustang homepage. We’ve seen an increase in leads. We’ve seen an increase in engagement rates when we post about it on our Facebook page. We’ve seen increases across the board.”
If Muse Communications were to advertise on Facebook, an invitation to view the commercial and engage in conversation about the lack of diversity in the advertising industry would bring a lot more people to Muse’s page than an invitation to review some of their latest campaigns.
There’s a school of thought that argues ads are designed to sell product, but nobody spending time on Facebook wants to be pitched. Yet those who strategize social media know that creating engagement is a step on the path to sales. It was back in early 2008 when John January—creative director for a Kansas City-based agency—told me that we had entered the era when all advertising had to drive customers to social channels. January had been behind just such an effort, using billboard and bus advertising to drive people to a social site to share and vote on pictures of their ugliest rooms, all on behalf of a bank promoting its home improvement loans.
Whether enough agencies and clients will figure out the formula for successful Facebook advertising—including cross-promotion of campaigns focusing on topics the customer is genuinely interested in—in time to boost newly-public Facebook’s revenue prospects remains to be seen. God knows there is an abundance of agencies mired in the practices of the 20th century.
Perhaps diversifying the talent pool could fix that.
Incidentally, Muse lost the challenge to Bozell. I’d argue they still came out on top.