Advertising does not create trends; it merely reflects them. It borrows from them. It steals from them, often "forgetting" to quote the original source. The great Trevor Beattie, former Creative Director and Chair of TBWA London (now partner of Beattie McGuinness Bungay), said as much many years ago.
Famous for creating many controversial advertising campaigns for brands like French Connection (the FCUK acronym became a powerful brand icon) and Wonderbra, he was asked about his influence on pop culture and society. His response was that he was influenced by it, not the other way around. I'm paraphrasing, it was a long time ago, but the point is that in advertising, we reflect pop culture.
Now, many years after Beattie talked about that reflection, we have social media. It's everywhere, and it's prolific. Sadly, only the best advertisers, marketers and corporations are using it correctly. Almost everyone else is merely clogging the system with ill-conceived ads, pointless messages and ideas that have been blatantly crowbarred into this new format.
Just Because It's Popular, It Doesn't Mean It's Right For You.
There's a new app on the market. It hit the Apple App store recently, and experts suggest it will become as big, if not bigger, than Instagram. It's called Vine. Think of it as six seconds of creative license to do stop motion animation, mini-films, flipbooks, or anything else that can be captured using the camera on your phone.
Now, as this is new, it's something that advertisers want to cash in on quickly, in order to give themselves the "cool factor" of being in on the ground floor. But in the rush to jump on this new bandwagon, ad agencies are pushing a technology that is completely incongruous to the brand. A case in point is GE, who used Vine to create a six second animation of its logo being rendered in ballpoint pen.
The question is this - who cares?
This is not something viral. It's not interesting. It's not a perfect dovetailing of brand and platform. It's simply jumping on the bandwagon for kudos. But in this case, it falls flat. It's clearly reaching, and does nothing for the brand. I'm sure the creative involved did this under duress, so a valiant effort considering. However, this was nothing but an empty gesture, and GE should have known better.
Another example of poor social media marketing comes from Urban Outfitters. When Frankenstorm hit the east coast in October of 2012, Urban Outfitters Tweeted:
"This storm blows (but free shipping doesn't)! Today only."
To call that the height of bad taste would be something of an understatement. Although is was trumped by KitchenAid, who had the gall to post this one during the presidential debates:
"Obamas gma even knew it was going 2 be bad! She died 3 days b4 he became president."
Why a brand like KitchenAid feels the need to be Tweeting about politics is beyond me. Would this persuade anyone to buy a blender?
And this is the problem. Too many brands are being coerced by ad agencies to jump into social media circles that they have no business being in. Or, their marketing "professionals" see an opening and force the agency of record to do something "cool." This will always end in disaster.
Use Social Media, Of Course. But Use It Wisely.
Let's look at Vine again. Who could use it? Well, a brand like Nike could use this to showcase a Just Do It attitude quite nicely. It's a no brainer for TV and movie companies and studios. It's also great for comedians and students. And let's not forget, the adult industry will jump on this one. Moving pictures and the adult industry go together like strippers and glitter spray.
Vine, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and many other apps are useful marketing resources, primarily because they're cheap and have the power to penetrate a large audience and go viral. But it has to be done right, and done well. Sadly, most of it is anything but successful.