Thursday, October 30, 2008

Finding Water When The Economy Is In A Drought.

By Kevin McIntosh

Social Media vs. Advertising, as explained by the father of the Internet, Google's Dr. Vinton G. Cerf.

Who Can Leverage Social Media To Make Rain?

When it comes to social media, ad agencies just don’t get it.

That’s what a survey by TNS Media Intelligence/Cymfony of 60 marketers in North America, France and the U.K. revealed, according to an article earlier this year in Adweek.

In the article, 50 percent of marketers said social media efforts needed to be handled at an executive level with "significant" resources. Another 30 percent agreed social media is a "revolutionary opportunity."

But overall, the marketers expressed a frustration with ad agencies not getting it.

Digital Agencies Are Becoming Agencies Of Record

It was tough enough when ad agencies simply competed with other ad agencies. Now ad agencies are competing more and more with digital agencies.

An article published October 27th by Ad Age cites that more and more digital agencies are not only getting invited to pitch as agencies of record, but that they are actually winning. And social media is likely a good part of what they're bringing to the table.

Where There's Social Media, There's Content To Be Created

While social media is largely about letting consumers create the content, it still presents a great opportunity for content created by those of us in the business of doing just that. Keep in mind, Creators only represent a fraction of the overall Internet audience according to Technographics® data by Forrester Research. The Spectator segment doesn't create anything. Other segments may post comments and participate in social forums, but they are not creating heavy-duty content other than their own conversations.

The opportunities for creating content will grow as the social media category continues to grow. According to a recent article in Adweek, a consumer poll by Forrester Research conducted in Q2 found that 75 percent of Internet users participate in some form of social media, up from 56 percent in 2007.

Because social media is so new, there's a lot of concern about its effectiveness. Can it be measured? If done well, social media can be very effective. The Dove Real Beauty campaign launched a 75-second video to YouTube that generated 3x the number of visitors to its website versus running a Super Bowl spot.

As the book, Groundswell, demonstrates, the ROI for social media can be measured, perhaps even more effectively than in traditional media. Social media allows for very specific targeting, ideal for working niches. A tool like Twitter offers niche marketers a great opportunity to work the long tail, and that should only grow as Twitter becomes more adapted by the mainstream. Plus the efficiencies social media offers in terms of media savings and the pass-along factor can far outweigh the costs for creative and programming development.

Who Will Survive? Ad Agencies Or Digital Agencies?

Who is more prepared to actively tackle the challenge of developing creative for social media? Traditional ad agencies or digital agencies?

As a freelance copywriter, I work with a lot of ad agencies. And I'm starting to meet more of the digital agencies. Here’s my take on what I’m seeing in terms of the differences between the two cultures.

Ad agencies by their very nature, are still traditional. They create ads for traditional media such as print, outdoor and broadcast. And most now are creating websites and managing some online advertising efforts for clients.

Of the firms that create marketing messages and content, ad agencies tend to have the greatest understanding of branding and message creation. Perhaps mostly due to senior management having 20-30+ years of branding experience under the belt.

In terms of addressing the needs for social media, I am seeing a handful of traditional ad agencies starting to bring in people at the executive level to handle digital strategy and management, which presumably includes social media. Some of the bigger agencies such as DDB are starting to form digital marketing arms, like Tribal DDB. Another example is Tequila which is a TBWA\Worldwide company.

Of the interactive agencies I’m seeing, they know the capabilities of technologies like FaceBook and Twitter. But where they often fall short is a lack of understanding of branding and message creation. The better ones, like Tequila and Tribal DDB do, and that's likely why they become the main players.

As for the others, they may be able to advise a client to micro-blog on Twitter, but would they know how to advise the client to micro-blog in a compelling way that’s on strategy with the brand? They may know the right places to embed video code, but do they know how to create a video that has the production values that consumers have gotten spoiled to in the mainstream media.

Because while social media is largely about media created by the people, for the people, it still requires some nudging from the marketers. In other words, if you’re waiting for consumers to create all the content for your client, you could be waiting a long time. Even crowd-sourcing can demand a nudge from the brand.

Fight The Great Depression 2.0 With Advertising 2.0

So what am I leading to with all of this?

If you’re an ad agency trying to figure out how to manage through the hard times the whole business world is facing right now, do what you advise your clients to do. Position your brand uniquely by taking a leap into what your audience wants—social media.

But don’t wait. Because if a digital agency beats you to the punch, getting the business from clients will be harder in the future, than it will be now. And the longer you wait to take your existing clients there, the harder it may be for them to make any headway there as their competitors may have already staked out the territory.

In other words, don’t be the art director who in 1992 refused to adapt to working on a Mac. Embrace the new, and dive head first into it, willing to make some mistakes along the way.

Start by developing social media strategies for your own agency and learn from that. Marketers will take you more seriously for social media projects when you've done that anyway. Develop a social media campaign for a local non-profit.

If you’re a digital agency, get ready for the inevitable competition ad agencies may be getting ready to bring your way. While the ad agencies are hiring people from your world, hire people from the ad agency world with the expertise to create content and build brands.

Because as ad agencies hire more digital expertise, your value as digital experts will be deleveraged until you have more assets in place for creating strong branding. Granted your relationships with your clients may give you a stronghold, but we all know the day we get a new account is also the day we start to lose it.

Oh, and to complicate this all a bit more, let’s throw in the competition that ad agencies and digital agencies may be soon getting from public relations agencies. Social media is largely about public relations, especially in terms of monitoring public opinion and working to influence it. And if PR firms get more tech savvy and become better at creating brand content, you’ll have even more competition on your hands.

Whichever side of the fence you’re on, ad agency or digital agency, the idea is that tough times call for getting innovative. Maybe the place to meet is in the middle, where ad agencies and digital agencies form strategic alliances with one another, as some of you are already doing.

Your thoughts?

What are your thoughts on this? I’m eager to hear.

If you’re up on social media technology, you can DM me on Twitter @macwriter where you'll find me micro-blogging. For everyone else, a simple comment left below will be fine, just click on the "Comment" link.

And finally, please email this blog post to the owners / partners of your company. They need to read it.

Kevin McIntosh is a freelance copywriter in the Nashville market. His work can be seen at

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