Likes, friends and buzz don't add up to social marketing success

Every national brand, it seems, and many local Richmond ones have made social network campaigns – through Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and other social network media – into their major overall advertising medium. Right now, two national brands are probably wishing they hadn’t.

Two massive failures

Pepsi put its money on social marketing to get themselves out of their perennial number-two soda brand position (behind Coke). With great fanfare, they announced in 2010 that they were skipping Super Bowl television advertising and starting a social networking program instead. The program was built around the idea of the “Refresh Project,” in which consumers with “refreshing ideas that change the world” were invited to apply online for a share of $20 million in grant money.

Pepsi’s announcement that it was bowing out of the Super Bowl attracted more publicity than Coke’s two 60-second Super Bowl spots. The Refresh Project generated good relations between local Pepsi bottlers and their communities. The company announced that the Refresh Project was getting an “unbelievable response.”

And it did break Pepsi out of the dreaded number-two spot – down to third, behind not only Coke, but Diet Coke as well.

Maybe the reason for this failure was that the only connection between the campaign and the brand it was supposed to be promoting was that it used the verb “Refresh,” which is what a cola’s supposed to do. But the rest was all about idealistic charitable good works, which any brand, for any product category, could have been supporting.

Over the past seven years, Burger King’s advertising agency, Crispin Porter & Bogusky, moved the brand heavily into Facebook campaigns and viral videos. Their campaigns got all kinds of response and engagement, but not so much in the way of sales. The six most recent consecutive quarters – from second quarter 2009 through third quarter 2010 (the latest quarter reported), BK same-store sales were down. And it wasn’t the economy, stupid; while Burger King’s estimated 2010 sales were down 2.5% to $8.7 billion, McDonald’s sales went up 4.4%, to $32.4 billion. Which is why Burger King fired the advertising agency last week.

Two massive successes

Procter & Gamble’s “the man your man could smell like” YouTube campaign generated tons of response, but even more sales. One reason is that what a man smells like is integral to selling products like Old Spice body wash. Another is that it was targeted to women, who do most of the shopping for men’s deodorants, after shaves and other toiletries. Third, it at least referenced the Old Spice brand’s maritime-related positioning. And the capper, when these women went to their supermarkets to check out Old Spice body wash, they found very attractive promotional pricing.

Ford’s Fiesta Movement Facebook campaign produced not only views and likes, but actual leads for dealers. It also produced amazing sales-conversion numbers because when those leads showed up at dealerships to take test-drives, they found a car whose high quality belied its low pricing.

Likes aren’t everything

Too many advertisers get so carried away by the new medium for reaching Generation Next that they forget a basic truth. As  Jonathan Salem Baskin notes in Advertising Age:

Technology has utterly changed the way consumers get and use information…[S]mart, earnest people…believe that the new technology has also changed human nature and the very purpose of business function. It did neither. People still need and do the same things they always did, and companies still need to sell to them. Pretending that conversation has any value apart from the meaningful, relevant and useful information within it – …or that anybody wakes up in the morning hoping to have a conversation with a brand of toothpaste or insurance – is no longer credible…

In other words, the medium isn’t the message. The message is the message, regardless of medium.