Advertising, Social Media Skills

Guest post by Edward Boches, Chief Creative Officer at Mullen. Find him on Twitter at @edwardboches

Can social media professionals learn
anything from the world of advertising?

When Jason asked me to answer this question, my first reaction was he had it backwards. Shouldn’t the question be, “What can advertising professionals learn from the world of social media?” I mean consider that the consumer has become the medium, the distribution channel, and in some cases (think Don Draper on Twitter or Coke’s fan page) the content creator. Isn’t it the ad practitioner who needs to learn about social media, to understand how conversation has become the new marketing? What can outdated ad guys possibly teach social media types?

But as I thought about it, it’s obvious that both disciplines (I actually predict they’ll soon be one and the same) can learn from each other. Ad agencies and advertisers can learn new ways to listen, engage and take advantage of emerging tools and platforms for the distribution of their content. At the same time, perhaps social media types can take advantage of what advertising professionals know.

So here are three things that every social media person might want to learn from advertising folks.

1. Good advertising tells you what a product does and why you should buy it. Great advertising expresses what a brand stands for an invites you to share in its beliefs.

The best advertisers and agencies know that consumers buy into a brand’s values as much or maybe even more than the individual products. Nike advertising doesn’t push shoes; it encourages, inspires and promises individual achievement. doesn’t tell you how easy it is to explore job options; it reinforces your right to a fulfilling career. Coca Cola doesn’t talk about what’s inside the bottle, it brings to life what’s outside the bottle: joy and happiness. You can see this over and over again in the best advertising.

What’s the lesson for social media? Don’t push a product. Don’t generate content that’s limited to offers or coupons (like some retailers do on Twitter). Instead, demonstrate what you stand for through the content and utility you offer and the community you nurture and inspire. Think Zappos, which stands for customer service and practices it using Twitter. Emulate Whole Foods, which expresses its belief in health, nutrition and the enjoyment of good food, evident on Facebook and Twitter. Model your approach on WalMart, a retailer proving its commitment to value by aggregating and generating useful content through it’s Mom blogger program. These are brands that aren’t saying what they stand for, they’re living it in a way that invites participation.

2. Elevate your creative before you increase your budget

The great agencies and the best advertisers all know this. A big creative idea is the ultimate competitive advantage. You can always buy presence, but you can’t pay for memorable. Think of ideas you’ve seen that you’ll never forget: Absolut Vodka’s bottle art, Budweiser’s Wassup, E-Trade’s Chimp,’s When I Grow Up, The Milk Board’s Got Milk? These are all campaigns from years gone by. But chances are if you saw them just once you remember them always.

Or consider more recent efforts. Cadbury’s drum banging gorilla. Or even my own agency’s recent campaign for the Boston Bruins. The latter two had virtually no media dollars behind them at all. But they had the creative power to attract attention, become viral, and worm their way into the current culture.

The fact is it’s only a matter of time before every brand has a Facebook fan page, a presence on Twitter, and a YouTube channel. Simply being there won’t be enough. What will separate one brand from another will be the quality and creativity of the content, the program, and the experience. Consumers will want experiences that aren’t just relevant, but interesting, entertaining and inspirational.

3. Recessions are the best time to make a move

It’s been proven definitively that companies willing to spend on new programs, acquisition and advertising during recessions far outpace companies that make big cuts. Kellogg’s Rice Krispies raced past Post Cereal in the early 1930s by doubling its ad budget. According to McKinsey, companies that took equally aggressive approaches during the slowdowns of 1981-82 and 1990-91 enjoyed similar results. Why? For the simple reason that when advertising is scarcer, the brands that do advertise benefit from a greater share of voice and visibility. Yet despite all the evidence, most brands fail to take advantage of this time-tested approach. Perhaps it’s because it’s hard to think about building an addition when the house is burning down.

But there’s a huge lesson here for social media. This new approach to marketing is still in its infancy. The first ones to get out there will grab a much larger share of attention in relationship to their effort than they will in another two or three years, when the social media environment is far more cluttered and consumers will have even more content to sift through and communities to choose from. It’s a chance to do what Kellogg did. Establish yourself when there’s less competition.

So there you have it. The value of shared beliefs. The power of creativity. An understanding that timing is everything. Maybe there is something you can learn from the world of advertising. Can you think of anything else?

SERIES Social Media SkillsAdvertising, SEO, PR, Graphic Design, Copywriting, and more…

33 thoughts on “Advertising, Social Media Skills”

  1. very cool series Jason. We were just talking about the merging of PR and social media, but I think you are right, it is a bigger community of communication professionals than that.

    @Ed Advertising can indeed bring a lot to the social media table. Just the ideation and the research on what engages different demographics is a great base. Your examples speak to what a lot of social media efforts are lacking these days = strong, original ideas.

  2. Advertising really does have a lot to offer in the social media sphere. Though I fear, outside of a few excepts (Crispin, Mullen, etc) many are way behind.

  3. Thanks Jeremy. It truly is a big communications merge. Everyone uses the internet for their industry. Social Media is a part of it all.

  4. Love it, Edward. And I think your initial comment was equally poignant: Advertising has much to learn from sm. Authenticity over veneer. Business results over creative awards. It's really shaping up to be a relationship of extremely complimentary partners.

  5. Agreed Sam. I think they would be farther along if it were not for the economic situation reducing a lot of staffs and budgets. I know a couple agencies who plan to bring on Social Media staff, but have not been able to budget it out yet.

  6. Agreed Eric. I think we can all learn from each other. I am hoping this series will leave encourage those very types of posts. Filling in the whole that we miss, or at least the counter points.

  7. For a self-proclaimed “outdated ad guy”, you're pretty hip to this new world of social media, Edward. : ) The three things you mention are exactly what those of us who truly believe in advertising have been saying for years. The values haven't changed. The core of what we do, what we believe in hasn't changed. Yes, we have to learn how to do things differently, with hundreds of new tools and places to create a new form of advertising. But that's what those of us who believe in the very best of what advertising has to offer will do, and we'll use as a starting point the values, the creativity and the timeliness which you so eloquently describe here. Thanks Edward, thanks Jason.

  8. Glad to see this is getting some good reaction. Not to spam my own post, but I have some other thoughts on my blog today, as well. It strikes me there are five key changes that social media will force upon all agencies and clients playing in the space.

    1. We have to create dialog, conversation, community and interaction with, between and among our consumers.
    2. We need to teach our clients to be less fearful of losing control of their brand voice and message and, in fact, welcome the active and vocal role of our audience. Many of them still resist.
    3. We and our clients need to learn from that conversation and perhaps modify content and products in response to it.
    4. We need to teach brands and clients to build a real following and a relationship with customers they actually know, not with the demographics on a spreadsheet or a media plan that simply represent those customers.
    5. If we want them to invite us in, pay attention to us, answer our questions and appreciate us enough to buy our products, then our content (our social media programs and experiences) need to be as good, maybe even better, than the actual products we sell.

    To do that takes a new breed of communication professional.

  9. Great post. I especially agree that the full integration of social media tools into marketing and PR strategies is where things need to go, and quickly. The sooner, the better, because I've had enough of social media “gurus” taking fundamental marketing concepts and leveraging the “new shiny” to create empty personal brands.

  10. I have minimal experience when it comes to taditional marketing and advertising strategies, so your insight here is extremely valuable. I wonder, and maybe you can help answer this question; but it appears social media and advertising are two faces of the same coin. Why then is it such a heated discussion when you mention social media and marketing in the same sentence?

  11. Dave:
    Here's the similarity. Advertising and social, from a brand's perspective, have same objective: gain attention, be remembered, drive results. (That's objective of PR and SEO, too.) Brands only want results.

    Difference is, in advertising, there is an audience there at a designated time and place, delivered by the tv network. The advertiser just shows up with a message. Pay for audience and attention. Though good creative helps.

    With social, the audience decides when, if, how and even defines the agenda and the conversation. So if a brand wants to get attention, be remembered and drive results, it both has to earn it (rather than pay for it), achieved through transparency, authenticity, contribution, and also realize that much of the message/content/discussion is controlled and created by the community itself.

    Simple analogy. Difference between being invited to give a speech where all eyes are on you. And being invited (maybe) to a party, where you have to be clever, witty, sociable and maybe bring a good story and a bottle of wine.

    Edward Boches

  12. @Dave, I do not consider it a heated discussion. I think the fact that
    everyone is fighting for the same money from the same tight budgets may
    create some tension amongst some, but to me it is all the same big
    dysfunctional family. Those that can make the pieces work together win.

  13. Really excellent commentary. Very inspiring as we head to Chicago to try and convince restaurant groups – large and small – that they NEED to be in the social media space.

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  15. Outstanding points here. Particularly powerful and salient is #3 about being out front when everyone else is shrinking. What an opportunity – if you're courageous and forward thinking.

  16. Restaurants are definitely tough Tom. Not impossible by any means though. I
    am working with some Restaurant Marketing companies currently on building
    out Social Media offerings for them. They are in the same boat as many of
    us, trying to show them the value. This post would be a quality add on to
    that conversation. Good luck with your efforts

  17. Interesting!

    In the past, offline media was one of the major mediums to promote one’s business and brand awareness. However, with the increasing popularity of the online media and its positive results, more people are turning to online marketing techniques to build a strong business presence across the globe. There are several online marketing strategies we can use for our Internet marketing solutions, but SEO (search engine optimization) today has taken a stance much ahead of any other technique.

    SEO brings with it tremendous scope for business improvement with improved keyword positioning, improved ranking and overall increase in the ROI and cuts down on the PPC cost extensively in the long run. This is a proven marketing solution if done the right way using the right techniques based on your website requirements.

    I thought this information would be helpful for those who wish to promote their website and get great results.

  18. Edward,
    Good comments about SEO and yes, it is incredibly valuable in social media. But all of this stuff is connected. For example, if you create really good content and it gets RT'd a lot then it will actually come up more on search, correct? If you write a great blog post and it gets linked to by other sites, that number of links will help its organic results. I believe that every content creator out there has to know at least something about SEO and take advantage of it. But at the same time, we all have to create great content, too. Otherwise it's not worth finding.

  19. when the social media environment is far more cluttered and consumers will have even more content to sift through and communities to choose from,at that time,How to survive a culture shock ?

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