One of the biggest cultural changes that has come packaged with the Internet Age is the ability to talk to a brand. For a century or more, marketing and ad campaigns had been a process that took place in corporate brainstorming board rooms, behind closed doors, and far, far from the public eye. Brands took their time crafting their image and the message that would compel consumers to buy, and direct that information to the public via television commercial, billboard, magazine ad, or storefront display. The direction of classic marketing is one way–from brand to consumer. Sure, you could write a formal letter to Taco Bell if you wanted to complain badly enough, but it was likely no one else would hear.
Today, however, brands who are connected to social media can escape neither public approval nor scrutiny. Social media marketing opens a door to a dialogue between consumers and brands that is being held 24/7 and is changing the way brands speak to their customers. It is no longer sufficient to create a well-planned ad and trust a television prime-time spot to cast it upon an audience like a magic, money-making spell, and this is because, as Hausman says, “consumers don’t believe brands.” Before it was possible to have an open, public dialogue with a brand, companies could get away with manipulating the truth about a brand or a product, and some, if not many, did just that. Mad Men, anyone?
Not only has social media opened a bidirectional dialogue, it has also made brands available and accessible to consumers around the clock, and prompted them to be ready to address customer concerns readily and publicly. Now, whether you applaud or berate Taco Bell, its Twitter team is ready for you. The fast food giant’s Twitter account has become widely popular in recent years because it meets consumers with “a clever combination of retweets, sassy comebacks, hashtags, and whimsical life advice” (Boboltz). The company has not only taken to social media advertising, it has come to live where its consumers like to hang out, and it speaks to consumers like they speak to one another. This kind of engagement is what earns points and develops consumer trust. It’s real-time and public–sincere in a way that classic marketing doesn’t have to be. It creates opportunity to address praise and complaint alike, and according to Baer, companies need to “look at every individual complaint as an opportunity to create a deeper brand experience than a single purchase or interaction ever could.” Taco Bell has adopted the “hug your haters” philosophy and also combined it with another valuable tactic: entertainment, which is seen as more authentic content (Young, p.27).
Classic marketing isn’t without its strengths. With the advent of social media marketing, multiple platforms, and bidirectional dialogue also comes clutter. Young says that “as we consume more media, the existing media channels are fragmenting and new ones are being added” and that “clutter is one of the biggest problems for marketers” (p.18). If advertisers don’t maintain consistency across multimedia channels, the brand image and message are weakened and less effective. Brand messages are broken up simply because there is no longer just a handful of powerful media outlets i.e. television, radio, and print.
Although social media marketing, in my opinion, is the stronger and more effective approach in the digital era, there is also strength in integrating social media advertising with classic advertising when communicating with consumers around the clock. As Young points out, “the world’s oldest advertising medium, the out-of-home (OOH) industry, is investing heavily in digital OOH networks. Digital OOH inside elevators, shopping malls, airports, and on freeways is transforming static signage into real-time, digital media” (p.20-21). Take, for example, a project by Aerva Inc. Aerva uses digital display billboards to share images of social media conversations that people are having about or with brands. The boards’ contents are managed by software that filters and selects appropriate posts while removing fraudulent and irrelevant posts, and then shows consumers what people are saying about a brand. Check out this link or click the video below to see a brief case study about Taco Bell and Aerva digital billboards.
Hausman, Angela. (2014, October 9). business2community.com – “Social Media Versus Traditional Media”
Baer, Jay. (2015, April 1). inc.com – “How to Hug Your Haters: 3 Ways to Use Complaints to Strengthen Your Business”
Boboltz, Sara. (2014, February 28). huffingtonpost.com – “Whoever Runs Taco Bell’s Twitter Account Deserves a Raise”
Young, Anthony. (2014). Brand Media Strategy: Integrated Communications Planning in the Digital Era. (Second Edition). New York, NY. Palgrave Macmillan.
Children gathered around TV: rochdaleonline.co.uk – “The new endangered species: The black and white TV”
It’s toasted Lucky Strike ad: theglobeandmail.com – “Presenting the Maddies: Five very real ad campaigns from the world of Mad Men”