The rise of conversational advertising

The latest edition of The Economist asks whether Facebook, MySpace and other social-networking sites can transform advertising.

There’s already plenty of activity on social networks such as these by companies large and small, using their brands as personalities in endeavours to engage with real people.

You only have to look at YouTube to see many examples of what’s going on, some of it spectacularly good (Unilever’s Dove campaign is a great example).

The Economist summarizes much of the evolution in online advertising and consumer behaviour as well as changes in marketers’ behaviours post-Cluetrain Manifesto, published eight years ago (that long ago!).

This is the part of The Economist story that caught my attention:

[…] The first step for brands to socialise with consumers is to start profile pages on social networks and then accept “friend requests” from individuals.

[…] Facebook, from this week, also lets brands create their own pages. Coca-Cola, for instance, has a Sprite page and a “Sprite Sips” game that lets users play with a little animated character on their own pages. Facebook makes this a social act by automatically informing the player’s friends, via tiny “news feed” alerts, of the fun in progress. Thus, at least in theory, a Sprite “experience” can travel through an entire group.

[…] In many cases, Facebook users can also treat brands’ pages like those of other friends, by adding reviews, photos or comments, say. Each of these actions might again be communicated instantly to the news feeds of their clique. Obviously this is a double-edged sword, since they can just as easily criticise a brand as praise it.

Whether we like it or not (and some people find this notion pretty creepy, says The Economist), we will see much more of this kind of brand marketing on social networks.

How effective it will be from the advertiser’s viewpoint depends a lot on their own transparency and authenticity. Remember Cillit Bang, anyone?

Not only advertisers, though:

[…] Yet another problem, says Paul Martino, an entrepreneur who launched Tribe, an early social network, is that the interpersonal connections (called the “social graph”) on such networks are also of low quality. Because few people dare to dump former friends or to reject unwanted friend requests from casual acquaintances, “social graphs degenerate to noise in all cases,” he says. If he is right, social-marketing campaigns will descend into visual clutter about the banal doings of increasingly random people, rather than being the next big thing in advertising.

That cautionary view aside, if advertisers plan and execute their engagement in the right way (so go and read Cluetrain), Facebook, MySpace and others may well transform advertising.

Everything else being equal of course.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.