Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Advertising and Social Media

I'm not an ad guy. Still, there's some stuff that you can figure out that's pretty obvious when you live in an advertising-steeped culture like mine. Ads serve at least two purposes. The first is to directly sell stuff, to induce you to go out and buy a thing. The second is to create an idea in you, and more generally in society, about some brand or product. BMW's advertising is rarely trying to induce me to go buy a car. BMW's advertising is almost entirely about creating and maintaining a widely held belief that BMW automobiles are of high quality, and are fun to drive. Internet ads have traditionally focused on the first one, which isn't as important, and internet ads are pretty unsuccessful anyways. The result is that internet advertising is kind of going in the crapper according to some analysts, as of this writing. I'm interested in the second one right now.

We are dramatically influenced in our beliefs by what we perceive as the beliefs of our peers and our friends. To a large extent, our beliefs are roughly the average of what we perceive as the beliefs held by "people like ourselves." If you were, for instance, to hand out plain white flyers that read simply:

People like you are saying that Geffenmacht cars are incredibly luxurious.

the result a month or so after is almost certainly that some people would think that this entirely fictional brand of automobile was quite luxurious. I don't know if anyone has done this specific experiment, but I bet it would work, and there's tons of science that says stuff kind of this sort pretty much works much better than you'd think it does. We are much simpler creatures than we imagine we are.

Obviously this is some sort of network effect. If BMW can convince many of my peers and friends that their cars are fun to drive, if they can convince people with whom I feel connected, they are well on their way toward convincing me that BMW cars are fun to drive. Whether BMW cars are in fact fun to drive is largely beside the point, although if it is true it makes the job of convincing people that much easier.

Network effect. Social network. Wait a second!

We're starting to see advertisers using "user created content", which is to say pictures from instagram and the like, in their advertisements. Of course this will resonate with the customers. These are real people, people like me, enjoying that product in a real setting. This is true. I feel this is only the tip of the iceberg, however.

Let us suppose that you want to create the idea that your new energy drink, POWJUS, is a great drink at parties. What if you could arrange for certain pictures on instagram or facebook, the pictures of parties in which a bottle of POWJUS appears, to be featured in someone's feed with somewhat greater probability. What if, when I log in to my social media network of choice, I am shown somewhat more often than random, pictures of my friends and peers drinking POWJUS at parties? This can be done with software. There will be some misses, the software may occasionally identify a cloud as a bottle of POWJUS and a herd of buffalo as a party, but we're talking about just nudging things up in the rankings a bit, so they appear somewhat more often. Some misses is OK.

I'll tell you this, if it's not being done already it's because someone's asleep at the switch. This stuff ain't even hard. It's all very well to push tweets about how awesome Coca-Cola is forward. How much better is it to push forward actual real true pictures of people just like me drinking Coca-Cola, driving BMWs, and smoking Marlboros? I can see it. It's real. It's true. My peers actually do all those things and, apparently, they do them quite a lot.

Mission accomplished! You just can't buy this kind of exposure! Oh, wait, actually, now you can.

Welcome to the future!

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