The challenges of marketing’s new wave

Agencies are now starting to produce some pretty innovative online campaigns, taking advantage of social marketing tools. Among the most effective I’ve seen are those utilizing Facebook Connect. Discovery Channel produced an innovative campaign to promote their Frenzied Waters Shark Week television series. Incredibly creative, this powerful promotion showed a first-person video of what it would be like to experience a shark attack, and actually pulled in images and info from the user’s Facebook profile to show their life flashing before their eyes.

I love how cleverly the Facebook information was used. You see images from the profile dimmed behind the water, and even the use of the person’s name in an obituary. At the end is a posting showing that the position they held at work is now vacant, with the company seeking to have it filled. Really brilliant stuff. Not overplayed or heavy-handed, but just right.

You can see what the experience looked like for one user, Nick O’Neill, right here.

This promotion was dreamed up by Campfire, with the actual code and strategy developed by Your Majesty and The Advanced Guard. Kudos to everyone involved.

Another attempt to use this approach was the promotion by 20th Century Fox on the rollout of the 10th anniversary edition of the cult classic film “Fight Club.” In this case, Facebook profile information was accessed to produce a trailer. It was ridiculously slow and not nearly as well made.

This brings me to the point of the article. Along with the power of social media to create amazingly effective stuff come several big challenges. These aren’t new, but in the frenzied excitement of trying to push the bleeding edge (sorry) of marketing, many people are forgetting to address these basic foundational issues.

Getting in the front door

Every savvy Internet user is well aware of privacy and guards it well. For any social media tool to play down these concerns would be suicide (and usually illegal), so Facebook asks for permission before an application like these can access your profile.

Obviously, only those who are totally blown away by your creative will be interested in granting such access. But how will they know that it will be good? Most people won’t have a clue what your Facebook Connect app is going to do. As a result, they aren’t going to grant access. Nobody wants to have an application post something stupid or annoying on their public profile!

This creates a whole new element of complexity for those who produce the campaign. It’s no longer enough to simply express excitement and hope people will come along with you. It’s absolutely critical to tell them what they’ll experience ahead of time. You have to show what a typical Facebook wall posting looks like, tell them why your application is worth loading, and find ways to add extra value to the equation.

I think the Discovery Channel promo was quite sensitive. The Facebook postings were smart enough that they wouldn’t serve as an embarrassment to anyone.

Adding value

People will add your app if there is sufficient value for them. If you’re a major coffee company and want people to post their favorite drink to their profile, fine. But what’s the point, really? What’s in it for them? Why not raise the bar by giving them a free beverage each time they do so? Now you’ve got a true partnership and that’s what social media marketing is all about.

I have two iPhone apps which represent opposite sides of this reality. One lets me track my running or cycling workouts using the built-in GPS, and posts the results to my FB profile and wall. It’s very cool because the social media posts it creates are subtle, not too promotional or “pushy” in style. When people click the link in the post they can see the details of my workout, including an actual GPS track and stats. This is useful! My friends can compare their results against mine. These guys get what social media is all about, letting me become a “trust agent” as Chris Brogan calls those who influence through their posts. The other app is nicely designed and lets me design and track my gym workouts. But these guys don’t get social media. The postings the app creates are purely promotional. The links in the posts are only designed to sell the product itself to others, with no “added value” for my friends. They can’t see any further info about my workouts. So what’s the point? I’m embarrassed about what it posts to Facebook and am feeling great pressure to turn that posting feature off. (Update: I did give in to embarrassment and turned off that feature. My desire when I let apps post info is to add value through those posts, not to boast about my workouts)

No matter how creative your promotion, if it’s self-serving and offers no real value to those you’re trying to reach, they won’t bother with it and all your effort will be wasted. So spend time figuring out what will make it useful for those who see the postings.

In the case of Discovery’s Frenzied Waters campaign, the value was inherent in the video production itself.

Load time

Another factor with apps like these is load time. Some, like the Fight Club promo, simply take too long to load. People are busier than ever, trying to fit more stuff into the same 24 hour days we’ve had since the first loin cloth was sewn from fig leaves. If your app doesn’t load in 8 seconds, you’re toast. Women are even more impatient than men when it comes to online activities. Their timeout ratio is 3:1 compared to men, so you better plan on a load time of 3 seconds if you don’t want to lose huge percentages of the female demographic.

The Discovery campaign loaded very quickly, just 3 seconds, while the Fight Club promo took over a minute, rendering it essentially useless.

Regardless of how effectively your creative applies the powerful tools available through social media, you better make sure it meets the real-world people tests or it will fall flat on its Facebook.

George Pytlik

George Pytlik has been involved in the advertising industry for over 30 years and designed his first website when the Internet was one year old. He was an internationally recognized speaker on advertising and branding and served on a number of communication committees at various times throughout his career, as well as writing a regular column for Marketing magazine.

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