When I got into this business, a friend suggested I read Ogilvy on Advertising, the industry insights of a man who had been described as “the most sought after wizard in today’s advertising.” I don’t know who called him that, it could have been his uncle or the publisher of his book for all I care, but my friend spoke so convincingly of how engaging and educational the book is, that 3 years later I acted on his advice (big backorder from Amazon). For those of you who haven’t read it, I can honestly say that I am blown away by how relevant the insights are, some 30 years after it was written, despite advertising changing so drastically over that time period. My only pseudo-complaint would be that every photo contains an annoyingly redundant caption (trust me, everyone who’s read the book is nodding along to this; you should just follow suit and assume that I’m incredibly insightful). That aside, it’s one of my all time favorites reads, and I have read over 4 books.
Enter Kim Reyes, Big Fuel’s communications manager, reminding me that I promised her a blog post. So I started to think about how David Ogilvy himself would view social media. After all, while Ogilvy was known for his creative genius, he never hid that his success was a result of a deep understanding of his audience. No doubt Facebook would prompt Ogilvy to do… whatever half Irish/half Scottish people from England do out of excitement. Social media has allowed for a depth of audience research like never before. Demographic information on Facebook is over 95% accurate, and (even more valuably) users group themselves into passion point buckets with every move they make. Social allows us to target consumers based on what they LOVE, not just where they are.
That being said, I believe that social media has contributed to an advertising landscape that’s actually contrast with David Ogilvy’s mindset. For example, Ogilvy calls word of mouth marketing “manna from heaven,” and admits he had no idea how to capture it. Social media has provided a platform for marketing messages, characters and the products they endorse to develop fame of their own. Allstate’s Mayhem has over 1.2mm Facebook fans and Progressive’s Flo has over 4mm. Social Media has given advertisers a relevant, consistent platform through which to enter the cultural conversation with branded content.
David Ogilvy also praised the value of long copy, assuming one has writers who can create entertaining advertising stories. While he referenced time after time when his word-heavy advertisements proved to be effective, we now live in a world when attention spans are at an all time low. If you’ve read this far into this article, you should apply to be a professor at Cambridge. 140 characters have the power to change the world, and 200 have the power to bore us to death.
Finally, the most important difference between social media marketing and David Ogilvy’s approach to advertising is the end result. David Ogilvy was stern in his belief that good advertising wasn’t about entertainment, or buzz, or even brand recognition; it should be measured by sales impact. He even went as far as to say every advertiser should spend two years in Direct Response to reinforce that notion. But as is said so often, social media isn’t about direct sales. Brands can distribute social-channel-exclusive promotion codes that can be tracked to in-store/online sales, but generally speaking social is about becoming part of your consumer’s lifestyle…actually being your consumer’s “friend.” For a brand like Coca-Cola or Kraft, which depends on a high volume of repeat, low value purchases, what’s more important? Selling a snack or being top of mind every time consumers get hungry? Social is a platform that has the potential to transform the way a brand is perceived, given the brand has the patience and confidence to let that process develop.
I should be clear – David Ogilvy was a creative genius rooted in analytical research and I have no doubt that he would have been a visionary in social media as he was in every advertising platform he ever saw. The way social media challenges his tried and true beliefs is just further proof that social is like nothing we’ve ever seen. The challenge to master and define social media marketing is out, and this generation’s David Ogilvy is being defined as we speak. I urge that person, whoever they may be, to think of better captions for the images in their inevitable best-selling book (once again, if you haven’t read the book and don’t know what I’m talking about, just save yourself some time, smirk, and make the assumption that I’m a genius).