Brands, social, clutter and the sundae

The Times reports that traditional brand advertising on Facebook is a total failure. If you’ve been doing this for a while, this is no real surprise.

Mark Drapeau asks whether brands belong on Twitter [I apologize to Mark for initially misunderstanding his post. My fault.]. Venture Beat says that Twitter made Dell a million dollars. That’s nuts. Did the phone company make Dell a billion dollars? Just because people used the phone to order their Dell doesn’t mean that the phone was a marketing medium. It was a connecting medium. Big difference.

There are two key problems here.

First, these big companies are asking precisely the wrong question. They are asking, "how can we use these new tools to leverage our existing businesses?" They want to use the thing they have (money) to get the thing they need (attention) and are basically trying to force ads onto a medium that just doesn’t want them. Do people really want to follow P&G on Twitter so they can learn about the history of the soap operas they sponsored? Why? There are millions of people to friend or follow or interact with… why oh why are you going to spend time with Dunkin Donuts unless there is something in it for you?

Traditional advertising is inherently selfish. It interrupts in order to generate money (part of which pays for more interruptions). That approach doesn’t work at a cocktail party, or at a funeral or in a social network.

This is the meatball sundae. Asking what the medium can do for you instead of what you can do for the medium.

The second problem is a lot more subtle. It’s the clutter of the impersonal. Yes, you want an alert from a friend when it’s really a friend and really an alert. But what happens when it’s an ad that pretends to be an alert? Or what if it’s not an ad, but not really a totally personal tweet either?

It’s too late for the social sites to go back to descriptions of what you had for lunch. There will be a line drawn, and right now it seems to be at the point where marketers discover that they are wasting their money.

The clutter is going to get a lot worse. Marketers and free media are drawn to each other, even if the results aren’t always very good. Until marketers get off the greed train, though, it’s going to be a long time between pots of gold.