Monday 23 October 2017

False friends: social media gamble failing to pay off

Veracity issues and brand recall figures reveal billions may have been wasted by gullible advertisers seduced by the promise of digital platforms

Ten years ago the great promise of social media was that it would herald in a new golden era for ad agencies, their clients and their brands. Stock image
Ten years ago the great promise of social media was that it would herald in a new golden era for ad agencies, their clients and their brands. Stock image

John McGee

When was the last time you recall seeing a very clever or creative ad or piece of content, branded or otherwise, on social media? Something that stood out because it touched you, made you laugh or made you think about something other than the desire to inflict harm on the guy who posted the annoying photo of himself sipping cocktails on a beach in Bali. Struggling? Me too.

It was never meant to be like this.

Ten years ago the great promise of social media was that it would herald in a new golden era for ad agencies, their clients and their brands. That great shiny new thing called "social" would allow brands and advertisers reach out to consumers in a way that TV, press and radio could only dream of. The marketing lexicon soon became stuffed with words like viral, buzz, meme, stickiness and the most over-hyped term of them all, engagement.

Everyone wanted a piece of the action and, initially, many brands believed that by creating a Facebook page, punters would flock to like them and let them be part of their daily lives. Big bets were made in the hope that social media would allow brands to turbocharge their way into the hearts and minds of consumers and remain there forever.

In their defence, the numbers were compelling and it was hard not to be seduced by them. For example, the latest Ipsos MRBI Social Media Tracker, shows that some 64pc of the Irish population have a Facebook account, 29pc have a Twitter account while another 29pc have a LinkedIn account. In addition, Google+ would appear to be hanging on in there with 26pc, compared to 28pc for Instagram and 19pc for Pinterest.

With these kind of numbers, it's easy to see why brands have spent billions of euro in the faint hope that it would reap substantial dividends. Sadly, this may not be the case any more and, increasingly, questions are being asked by leading brands who want to know why their influence has become less significant than was originally promised by an over-zealous digital marketing industry. Not surprisingly, they've also been questioning the veracity of the self-certified data they are being provided with by the social media platforms.

"With so much ad spend now finding its way into digital, it is remarkable that we rely so much on digital brands and players to provide their own measures of ad exposure," says Damian Loscher, managing director of Ipsos MRBI. "Ad exposure/opportunity to see is a standard media currency, but lately very serious questions have been asked about the veracity of the exposure data being provided for digital."

As part of its latest social media tracker, Ipsos MRBI also looked at one of the key measures of advertising effectiveness - brand recall - to gauge what is happening among social media users and to see what, if anything, stood out for them in terms of advertising.

If you are one of hundreds of Irish brands that have been lured by the promise of social media, now might be the time to look away.

According to Loscher, a number of issues jumped out of the survey, none of which will provide comfort to advertisers.

Using Facebook as a case-study it found that a staggering 64pc of users could not recall any ads on Facebook recently. When asked to name brands which they recalled being advertised, the list is dominated by a small number of categories.

The brands most likely to be recalled are online retail fashion brands like Wish, ASOS, Misguided and Boohoo, none of which are Irish.

Other online retailers like Amazon, Littlewoods, Trivago and bricks-and-mortar ones like Tesco, Aldi and SuperValu, also featured while some non-online fashion/grocery brands like Coca-Cola, L'Oreal, McDonalds and Virgin Media also made it into the top 20.

Somewhat surprisingly, the Ipsos MRBI survey found that recall of advertising among women using Facebook, at 41pc is noticeably higher than among men, at 29pc. This female bias in advertising recall is unexpected, very significant and consistent with the type of ads being recalled, notes Loscher.

"These research findings only scratch the surface but are powerful in that they are unique in the perspective they offer on the impact of advertising within social media," he says.

"Digital is emerging from the fog. The euphoria is wearing off and serious questions are now being asked about the effectiveness of digital and social media advertising. We know TV, radio, press and outdoor can engage audiences, tell stories and build brands. We now need evidence that digital can do the same and the evidence needs to be clear, consumer-centric and independent," he adds.

This poses all kinds of challenges not just for the social media platforms themselves but for marketers and their agencies and it will be a struggle to resolve them.

But if social media is failing to deliver on its original promise, is it possible for traditional media like press and TV to reclaim some lost ground? Stranger things have happened.

Contact John McGee at

Sunday Indo Business

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