I had an email from a famous novelist who reads this screed.
Why does an author educated in philosophy at the hallowed Wellesley College read these rants?
Who knows. Maybe it's my snarky existentialist bent. But for some reason she's a fan.
And it's not as if she's suddenly lost her judgment after being locked inside the house for several weeks.
(I've told this to several friends: a writer during a lockdown barely notices. We were signing up for social distance when they issued our writer license. If we're judgment impaired, it happened long before COVID measures.)
Anyway, this famous novelist mentioned a particular national TV commercial.
Seems it stopped her in her tracks.
She asked what I thought of it.
Ironically, The Fabulous Honey Parker and I had just been discussing this very same commercial.
It opens with a plaintive piano under black & white photos of a newborn.
It quickly segues to a collage of vintage with current images intercut. They're all of mothers and newborns, doctors and nurses, and photos of the moment, then and now.
An elderly woman narrates.
"I was born during a quarantine. I don't remember it, of course.
"But for my mother, it was a very difficult time. She told me, 'It was just you and me for many months.'
"But she wasn't alone. Everybody tried to do what they could to help. But she was also a very strong person.
"And then it was over. We came out into a new world, my mother and me.
"We can get through this. We all have the strength to do it. I'm a hundred years old. And you just take care of that little miracle."
We also get to see the woman speaking. She looks fantastic.
A title says, "Anita Simpson, born in 1920 during the influenza pandemic."
Another title says, "For all new moms in quarantine, you're not alone."
The closing title is, "FB.com/parentsupport";
The name "Facebook" sits very quietly at the bottom of the frame.
If you haven't seen it, you can watch it right here...
And the question is...
Why is Facebook touching this nerve?
Or maybe a better question is, HOW is FB touching this nerve and what can the rest of us take away from it?
Facebook is a much used and widely reviled product.
It's also a piece of the zeitgeist, which (if they're smart) gives Facebook a certain responsibility.
And in the wake of the third rails they enjoy touching, like privacy breaches, phone number exposures, Cambridge Analytica, shadow profiles, and well...
Let's just say Facebook has some image problems.
That's probably one reason they hired New York-based Droga5 last year as their ad agency.
And if you visit Droga5's website, you can see an ad agency moving quickly. There's a page called, "Helping brands navigate COVID-19 in real time." The copy reads, in part:
"As the coronavirus pandemic reached around the world, it has never been more important to stay connected, especially when we must stay physically apart. It has been inspiring to see how people are using Facebook's family of technologies to come together, and as a result, we fully pivoted our approach and reoriented our strategy, go-to-market and communications plans for the Facebook company's first brand marketing effort."
OK, well, it sounds like it was written by an ad agency. "Fully pivoted." "Reoriented our strategy." "Go-to-market plan."
But next, it says of the work they're doing, "In a matter of days, we pulled together a new film to demonstrate solidarity during these uncertain times--"
AUUUUGGGGH! "Uncertain times!" They said it!
OMG, D5 for FB! What're you doing?
OK, we all have lapses.
But, the more important word that they use here is "demonstrate."
This is good. And it's important.
They didn't say, "A new film to tell about solidarity." They said, "A new film to demonstrate solidarity."
How many times can we be told about uncertain times and being in this together and blah blah blah blah.
Telling is feh.
Demonstrating? That's a win.
Demonstrate means to "give a practical exhibition" of something, "to clearly show the existence or truth" of something.
It's from the mid-16th century Latin word for "pointed out."
They're pointing at the truth without ever once speaking a single word of soggy oatmeal about uncertain times and how we're all in this together.
As a famous VO guy wrote to me recently about the endless telling, "Stop telling me how you're following CDC guidelines, stop telling me my safety is your number one priority, stop telling me I can order a car from the comfort of my own home, stop telling me things suck!"
Instead, the FB message does exactly what advertising should do.
It enters into a conversation the viewer is already having.
And it does it by pointing to a time and a people many of us haven't considered.
Then it offers a resource to those people and others like them who might need support.
Long live Facebook.
They aren't going to make the haters love them overnight. Changing their image is a glacial process.
But they are perhaps moving forward.
And for anyone who advertises, Droga5's work for Facebook is a good model to examine.
What are doing well, and how can we do something like it?
Your Lean, Mean Creative Director in
THE ONE IN WHICH YOUR SCRIBE ADMITS HE WAS WRONG
As the astute and faithful reader remembers, last week your relentless scribe went on a tear about Facebook advertising.
Specifically, that tear was about how advertising on Facebook doesn't matter for the small business, especially in an easily ignored, over-saturated medium.
I then asked, "Am I wrong?"
One faithful reader replied, suggesting delicately that yes, yours truly has no damn idea what he's talking about.
His name is Joe Geoffrey, the famous voice guy from the Texas panhandle.
He reached out, saying that Roy Williams and I agree. (Interestingly, that was the second time in a row this very thing has happened.) Specifically, Mr. Geoffrey was saying that Mr. Williams and I are in concurrence that " Traditional 'cost per thousand' can't be beat in radio and TV ads placed locally."
AND REALLY, WHO DOESN'T LIKE TO BE ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE WIZARD?
But this is in no way about me trying to draft off of Roy Williams' thunder.
To mix a metaphor.
Rather, it's about having evidence to blow my snarky allegations about FB advertising out of the water.
Mr. Geoffrey says he is "Fortunate enough to have a client who likes 'to see what else might work.'"
And that "what else" happens to include boosting Facebook posts.
In particular, they worked together to boost a video prior to Father's Day.
THE BUSINESS IS A SPECIALTY RETAILER
This retailer happened to have an inventory of high-end French pocketknives.
They'd been collecting dust for a year.
Seems their core customer really wasn't all that interested in a gorgeous handmade pocketknife.
Probably because the core customer is a woman who doesn't carry a pocketknife.
And she probably wasn't thinking a lot about buying this pocketknife for the man in her life (which really was the point).
So these knives, ranging in price from 80 bucks to $600, needed to move.
The first thing Mr. Geoffrey and the retailer did?
They created a short video, less than a minute, showcasing the knives.
Nothing fancy, mind you.
Just some closeup shots of various knives in various settings, showing off their beauty and their luster.
Of course, this simple video included some nuanced voiceover by Joe Geoffrey.
The copy was simply written. It said nothing about "all your pocketknife needs." Instead, it played up the emotional appeal of these gorgeous, pocketsize French scimitars, hand wrought of the finest steel and rarest case materials.
They posted this video on Facebook five days before Father's Day.
After paying to boost the post, a few things happened.
FIRST, THEY ALMOST IMMEDIATELY SOLD OUT OF THE LESS EXPENSIVE KNIVES
That happened in two days.
By Saturday, they had moved practically everything, including the most expensive knife in the case.
This dusty inventory that had been sitting around for over a year represented several thousand dollars in product that was wasn't getting any younger.
In five days, it was largely gone.
And what was the media cost for this effort?
A whopping $75.
Didn't see that one coming, didja?
But here's something to take into account.
This effort was not dissimilar to the best of radio advertising.
Here's why: radio is a relationship medium.
The P1 listener has a relationship with the station.
If you don't know, a P1 listener is someone who has you (her favorite station) programmed to the first button on the car radio.
It's the first place the listener turns.
So, when an advertisement on that station catches her attention, she's more likely to feel an affinity for it.
FACEBOOK AT ITS BEST IS ALSO A RELATIONSHIP MEDIUM
In this case, the retailer was already using Facebook as a way to establish a connection with their "P1," so to speak.
They are posting personal stories (as well as ads) and boosting posts for specific categories or brands featured in the store.
According to Mr. Geoffrey, "That goodwill goes a long way."
And his Father's Day pocketknife promotion story is an example of how far that goodwill goes.
The core customer is already paying attention to the retailer's Facebook stories.
The video captured her attention.
AND SHE HELPED PROMOTE THAT PROMOTED VIDEO
Mr. Geoffery says, "The boosted FB video was viewed, shared, commented on and liked close to 12,000 times."
Yes, 12,000 times.
That's considerably less than half a penny per interaction with the video. These people were engaged and paying attention.
He continues, "The store sold knives that had sat in the case for multiple seasons.
"The takeaway; a relevant and clear proposal that we couldn't have afforded to boost via traditional radio or TV (we've tried) and FB gives us an opportunity to build relationship outside the store."
The Fabulous Honey Parker viewed that video, and not only echoed the thoughts about clarity and relevance, but said that she thought it also gave the product some caché--despite being insanely simple.
So what does all this mean?
THE SAME THING IT ALWAYS MEANS
That understanding your core customer is key to building a brand.
That building a brand happens over time, it is not a flash in the pan (says Slow Burn Marketing).
That relationships are key.
And that when it comes time to do a promotion, being clear, relevant and focused is imperative.
The video did not say, "Hey, we also have women's jewelry, handbags and widget waggers on sale!"
Instead, it was laser-focused and solved a problem for the customer in a new and exciting way, to wit: "What do I get him for Father's Day?"
And while solving the customer's problem is what this is always about, it never to hurts to also be able to solve your own problem. In this case, "How do I move these knives?"
All very smart. All very doable.
If you'd like to continue this conversation with Mr. Geoffery, he's happy to do so. You'll find him in the Texas panhandle at joe [at] 2voiceit [dot] com.
APPARENTLY, THERE'S FEAR AND LOATHING IN FRANCE
The entire advertising industry is at the epic Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.
And in Cannes, every big advertising agency in the world is confronting Facebook.
Facebook is there, dominating the landscape with their huge trade-show erections along the pier and on the beach.
They're saying, "Oui, oui! Look at us! We are also a dominant force in the world of advertising! Drink up!"
Cue the popping champagne corks and high-priced moaning from ad-agency executives.
Let them drink Zuckerberg's Dom Perignon even while they bemoan his marketing megalith.
AT LEAST, THAT'S THE IMPRESSION ONE CAN GET FROM JIM RUTENBERG
He's the Media Columnist for
The New York Times.
He's at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity looking for The Big Story.
And his Big Story for the NYT on June 26, 2016, is that top advertising executives are "talking about existential threats to their business," mainly from Mark Zuckerberg's social-media juggernaut.
Apparently, the view among industry executives is that "Facebook's 'walled garden' makes it a new intermediary between brands and their customers, and between newspapers and their readers. That gives Facebook the potential to steal them all away if it ever chose to do so. (It says it won't.)"
Ha! One of the most classically pointless two-word phrases ever to pass the lips of an ad salesman...
And who really trusts Facebook at all except for the chronically naïve and the hopelessly addled?
That such fear extends to the ad community is pah duh surpreez (as the French would say it phonetically).
"We'd never steal your clients!"
Again I say, "Ha!"
But here in the weekly screed, what does it even matter? How is this of any relevance to the small-business owner?
If you read this screed on a weekly basis, it is 100% certain that you've never been in a position to go to the Cannes International Lion Orgy Of Champagne Cork Popping On Behalf Of Catering To Epic Consumerism.
It's entirely possible that your annual ad spend is dwarfed by Facebook's one-week budget for spilling Dom Perignon in the white sands along La Croisette.
HOW DOES ANY OF THIS AFFECT YOU?
Have you ever even bought a Facebook ad?
And if you did, did Facebook advertising work?
Because here's how it looks from over here, on the mountaintop outside Brigham Young country where the state legislature makes it difficult to even buy a bottle of Dom Perignon, much less spill it into the slipper of an overpaid, private-jet flying global ad agency CEO.
IT LOOKS LIKE FACEBOOK JUST DOESN'T MATTER
There. I said it.
In the world of the small, local business, Facebook advertising isn't even a blip on the radar of media mix.
Even for our most wildly successful clients, the idea of advertising on Facebook elicits peals of hyena-like laughter.
You know what paid advertising media they've found to be most effective?
Local sports sponsorship.
Yes, seriously. We have a client who would pour money into putting his logo on a local stock car before he'd ever buy a single Facebook ad.
AND HIS BUSINESS IS CRUSHING IT
Why is this?
And why, as a branding & marketing agency that bangs the drum for what small business can learn from Big Brands, do we eschew the Zuckernaut of FB advertising?
For the same reason we would tell you to never buy a spot in the Super Bowl.
It might be really effective for the right advertisers.
But most small businesses simply do not have deep enough pockets to make it work.
If you're a local business, where is your local customer?
Yes, she might be immersed in the social-media miasma that is Facebook or Instagram
BUT IS SHE PAYING ANY ATTENTION TO THE ADVERTISING?
As opposed to when she's driving in the car listening to her favorite local talk radio station?
And an actual, relevant message comes out of her car stereo reminding her that your local business is right there, in her town doing the things that matter to her?
If she's paying attention to the radio and the local businesses that support her radio station with salient messages, doesn't that make a whole lot more sense than an easily ignored ad on Facebook?
The problem with Facebook advertising for the small budget advertiser is similar to the problem described in the Jim Rutenberg article about Cannes.
Mr. Rutenberg talks about a shift happening in the advertising industry "to mobile phones, where more and more digital advertising is going.
"But the industry hasn't quite figured out how to make us regularly watch more than three seconds of a telephone-based video ad, or to click on a mobile display ad on purpose."
THAT'S KEY: WE CONSUMERS DON'T PAY ATTENTION!
The industry hasn't figured out how to make us consumers CARE about ads on our cell phones.
Just like it hasn't figured out how to make us consumers CARE about Facebook ads from somebody without enough money to spend.
Just because you build your ad there in Facebook's cornfield doesn't mean they will come.
Prospect behavior is key.
And it's very difficult to change how people use their phones and their social media.
AM I WRONG?
I know I do not in any way speak for the small-business ad industry at large.
But I have a suspicion that my allegations ring true for the small-business advertiser.
Or am I just like one of those nitwits who walks around saying, "I tried radio once and it didn't work!
"And therefore, radio is a waste of money."
A does not necessarily beget B.
So, what is your experience?
Has your business ever effectively used Facebook advertising to attract customers?
Have you ever actually received a return on your investment in FB?
Do you have any evidence to blow these snarky allegations out of the water?
If so, send your reply to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will present it here while your faithful scribe wallows in humble pie.
Blaine Parker is prone to ranting about any and all things related to brand. In many ways, he is a professional curmudgeon. While there is no known vaccine for this, the condition is also not contagious. Unless you choose it to be so.