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December 26, 2008

Elitist social media and the value of display advertising

I recently read a post on Chris Brogans  blog that really riled me. Not the tone, he seems to be genuinely a nice guy and always goes out of his way to be decent, but the topic and the attitude displayed really bugged me.

After recalling all the ads and banners he saw in one of the terminals at JFK, he then went on to argue about the stupidity of this form of advertising. (After remembering all of them mind you)

This is not an uncommon theme among the Social Mediarati. (Particularly those who earn a living from espousing the benefits of SM) They regularly slam all forms of off line marketing as ineffectual, out dated and a generally a waste of money.

It is an elitist attitude and it is dead wrong! This whole social media blogging thing is fast becoming a cabal of people having a discussion amongst themselves while others cheer them on.

His points were two fold, first the question/statement "does it convert?" and his second question/statement "Is this just about volume?"

Do you travel much?  If you do then you have probably seen the billboard type ads for SAP. Normally they highlight a world leading organization, one that is generally held in high esteem, with the words "The Best Run Companies Run SAP".

Does it convert?

A brilliant strap line isn't it? Want to be one of the best? Well look at what they are doing. But strap line aside; does anybody really think that the goal of that billboard is to get one of the senior execs traveling through the airport to say "Darn it, I need to spend $50 million on SAP, Get me a telephone!"

Of course not, an absurd concept and naive in the extreme. It's not always about making the telephone ring.

Often, it is about embedding a perception of the company, one that buoys its performance in the marketplace and helps it to have a receptive audience when it finally meets them. Just like the newsletters Chris sends out, or the newsletters I send out. it is a longer term game.

Not everyone is online, most senior execs don't read many blogs, if any, and they have no time for establishing a conversation with you, sorry. They are busy changing the world.

Thats not to say the "lets have a chat" approach doesn't work with big deals.. McKinsey and IBM are having a decent try at it. It's all very clumsy and stiff, but they are trying. I am sure it generates at least some leads for them to follow up on. (Just try to unsubscribe from the McKinsey newsletters...I dare you!)

Or in the case of McKinsey, perhaps it just reinforces the perception they want to create - that of a thought leader. One who you will receive willingly when they come calling, or the one you are going to turn to if it all goes bad in a hurry.

Just one example, there are many others. The key point is that not all marketing is designed to get the telephone to ring immediately. Some of it is a longer game that is all about perceptions in the marketplace and the reinforcing of positive images.

Here's an example of off line display advertising done very well. Gordon Ramsay  is famous for his serious Hell's Kitchen. I used to watch him on another series where he would meet a restaurant in trouble, and then work through a series of tailor made steps to get them profitable as quickly as possible.

Much to my surprise I found him to be an absolutely excellent consultant!!

One of the things I saw him do regularly was to put placards at strategic points telling people how to get to the restaurant he was working on. The footfall increase was generally very impressive.

Off line display advertising, of all sorts and forms, does work. It does yield impressive results, and it is often about a longer game than the social media newsletter / blog approaches.

I'm not saying that Godin's TV Industrial Complex is alive and well. I understand his point and I am sure he sleeps well at night knowing I agree with him. (That's sarcasm by the way) Just don't try to hook everything that is off line into the "interruption marketing" basket. I don't see it as correct.

Is it all about volume?

No. Not at all. I am sure that for some it is, and so be it, but for others it definitely is not.

If you have been through the airports where these billboards are, and you don't recall them. Then it is a fair bet that they were not talking to you. I see them because I am in the game, I am sensitive to what is happening and (I have to admit) the SAP strap line really does get me. I wish I had thought of it.

it's about touching a chord in the heart of the very few people who count for them. Maybe creating a doubt, or reinforcing a recent decision, or influencing a decision that is coming up in the next few months. It's not for you, and it's probably not for Chris.

I recall hearing about an event when SAP announced its annual conference in Spain, and Oracle immediately swooped on all the advertising in the airport that their clients would be arriving through. Did they make any sales out of that? No idea, I don't even know if its true.

But it really sent a message if it is, and I'm sure it unsettled more than one of the people in attendance, and may even yield dividends down the road.

When it is deployed effectively, off line advertising does have it's place. It is less likely to generate instant sales, or sales over the short term, but it is all part of a long term perception game.

Pump manufacturers, nail gun makers, grease and lubricant suppliers, all have to be noticed too. There are avenues online, but they also have many avenues off line.