Posts tagged “Social Media”
That question up in the headline could mean several things, and could be taken several ways … I mean all of them:
- Are you promoting plagiarism in your content by using the cheapest possible provider?
- Are you knowingly or unknowingly paying someone who is providing you with plagiarized or mashed-up content?
- Are you suffering the business consequences of having plagiarized content on your site?
No, this is not a “public service announcement” of the kind we’re subjected to on DVDs. This is about how the writing profession is being undermined online and why clients who hire inferior writers are suffering along with the professional writers.
You get what you pay for.
There are a great many problems with how Web site content and online articles are being written today. Chief among those problems is third-world pay and a words-per-pound attitude. That’s why much of the content we read online has been written in the developing world, even though it’s intended for first-world consumption.
The drivel we are subjected to in poor-quality links may also have been written by poor sods in North America or Western Europe who haven’t yet realized that, shortly, they won’t be able to pay their rent or buy food.
Many misguided owners of Web sites and online businesses think “content” amounts to nothing more than words on a page – that they’re required to have some measly words on their sites for the sole purpose of giving “visitors” a reason to visit. They are the enablers, the people who are bringing down the quality of online content as well as the value of the Internet.
They have not yet realized that while the Internet has been a tremendous boon to everyone, it has also done what Thomas Friedman termed as “flattening the earth.” Suddenly wannabes in developing countries are competing in the same “space,” for tenths of a penny on the dollar.
Google has noticed.
Virginia Heffernan has written about this (very, very nicely) in The New York Times, describing how Google decided it was time to take down the SEO tricksters who managed to get drivel at the top of our search returns: Google’s War On Nonsense.
“Imagine a sci-fi universe in which every letter, word and sentence is a commodity. Companies make money off chunks of language. Bosses drive writers to make more words faster and for less pay. Readers then pay for exposure to these cheaply made words in the precious currency of their attention.”
If you happen to be a writer looking for work online, you’re likely to encounter the slave mentality clearing houses that Ms. Heffernan has written about, such as oDesk, Demand Media, Associated Content, Answerbag, etc. When you do, you’ll understand why she wrote,
“Last year, The Economist admiringly described Associated Content and Demand Media as cleverly cynical operations that ‘aim to produce content at a price so low that even meager advertising revenue can support it.’”
Ah, the five-cent click. The new world order of advertising. The “volume” approach to sales.
Side note: While the merger of Publicis Groupe SA with Omnicom Group Inc. has just created the world’s largest advertising company, their combined billings of $35 billion is still not a match for Google’s $50 billion in revenues. (All those clicks, all those dollars …)
So, Google has decided to change the rules of SEO: The new rules of SEO **
Could you survive on $2 per hour?
So, if you you happen to be a writer looking for work online, you’ll soon discover that content mills pay $1-2 for short pieces and $10-15 for a 1500-word article. Think about that. It takes 2-4 hours to write a thoughtful, meaningful 1500-word article. That’s $2.50 per hour, maybe. Plus the time to figure out how to submit that article.
When you do figure how and where to submit, you may notice that your competition on those content mill and farm sites are ”content & SEO” providers in the far east, middle east and Africa. That’s when the penny drops. Who can survive on $2 per hour in any Western economy?*
Not that long ago, the average payment for professionally-written articles was $1-$2 per word. Per word. 1,500 words equaled $1,500-3,000. (You could eek out a living on that if you received around 20 assignments per year.)
Something similar happened to the photography profession a few decades ago when stock houses entered the scene. They bought up a photographer’s entire inventory (meaning they then owned it all) and then rented out each photo for $100-300 per use.
Guess what? Pretty soon no one was paying $2,000-$5,000 for major photo shoots. And the photography profession became a mere shadow of its former self.
That’s what’s happening to professional writing now. The bottom is falling out, and the Internet is making it easy.
We’re forcing people to plagiarize.
Yes, content mills and farms (Elance, oDesk, Demand Media, etc.) are the truly despicable part of “the flattened earth.” The Internet started out as an incomparable boon, and then it became the place that may kill professional writing as a profession.
If you’re only being paid $1-2 per hour, it’s easier (or necessary) to rip off what’s already online than to do your own research, writing and editing.
Content farms don’t seem to care. (Well, they have shareholders and CEOs to keep happy.)
But you should care. What if the kind of writers who are able to provide high-quality, carefully written articles become harder and harder to find? After all, how can writers in the Western world survive at the rates Demand Media et al are willing to pay?
It’s time for there to be online tools to check for the ripped-off, mashed-up, out-and-out plagiarized stuff that’s everywhere.
Our online existence has become a double-edged sword. We have virtually unlimited access to “information,” but also enormous responsibility not to spread half-truths and full-out lies.
And, by the way, we also have to be even more diligent about grammar, spelling and punctuation, because the misuse of language is rampant. (Again, thanks to content mills and farms.)
A rather interesting site called Brain Pickings posted something out of The Journal of Henry David Thoreau: “Do not seek expressions, seek thoughts to be expressed.”
In other words, originality is preferable to reworked bromides. And when you think about that, it means its better for both the writer and the reader. After all, aren’t you sick and tired of re-worked, re-hashed, pointless content?
Did you notice the revolution?
Not so long ago, if someone wanted to investigate something, such as the health benefits, if any, of using 2% milk fat products rather than whole milk products, one might have bought a book on nutrition, or written to a food or health editor to ask for a science-based answer.
Not today. Today, you just Google it. When you do, you learn that whole milk products, on average, contain only 3.5-4% milk fat, and that some experts regard it as healthier than low-fat or skim milk products.
Being able to search online, instantly, is a good thing, right? Ah, well, not always. Because, alas, we can’t always trust what we find online. Journalists and authors are held to a standard of fact verification that does not hold with what we find online … yet. Way too much of what we see and read online is merely mash-ups … or opinions. And therein lies the rub. As Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the distinguished, four-term U.S. Senator and sociologist, famously said, “We’re all entitled to our own opinions. Just not our own facts.”
While we have all benefitted from access to instant information via the Web, we have also become responsible for discerning fact from fiction. We’ve all been deluged with e-mails distorting actual events or statements merely for fun, or to achieve some particular political aim. However, few of us have subsequently used the Internet that brought us those missives to verify the supposed “facts” they contain. And even national television “news” programs have quoted those dubious sources … to their own deep embarrassment.
Even the fact-check sites are not always on the side of … facts. Snopes.com has proven reliable and objective (in my opinion), while Factcheck.org is highly suspect as an objective, fact-checking source (despite its misleading name) since it’s funded and overseen by The Annenberg Public Policy Center which has a very far right political agenda.
Did you check your spelling?
One of the more interesting and hopeful aspects of mass online participation is invigorated, reawakened vigilance about grammar, spelling and punctuation. As more and more people place their thoughts and opinions online, the mistakes are multitudinous. It’s almost a geometric formula: the number of mistakes we see are directly proportional to the number of people posting (or is that algebraic?).
But there’s a wonderful movement afoot of writers and editors who are not only pointing out those errors to the online speed demons, they’re writing about them. The elements of communication are spelling, punctuation and grammar. That’s one thing. The other is that we need to uphold journalistic standards as we become the writers of the stories … And even the photographers and videographers.
On May 31, 2013, a story broke in The New York Times that The Chicago Sun-Times had fired all of its professional photographers, about 30 people, including some Pulitzer Prize winners. Why? Because nearly all of us walk around with cameras now? Because they can’t afford staff photographers any more? The paper provided this highly unsatisfactory answer: “Business is changing rapidly … audiences are seeking more video content with their news.”
So not only have we become self-styled, self-regulating journalists, bloggers and product reviewers, we’ve also become videographers. (You can, of course, find YouTube reviews of virtually anything online.)
Another thing that’s odd about all the amateur content online is the creation of new terminologies. The Internet has become a kind of “neologisms gone wild,” hasn’t it? Portmanteau Tourette’s. The term blog, itself, is a perfect example – a fairly recent portmanteau word made up of “web” and “log.”
Things have changed.
David Carr of The New York Times posted an important story on June 16, 2013, Big News Forges Its Own Path. It’s about how all of Toronto was talking about a Gawker.com story when he was there. He wrote, “I saw and heard Gawker mentioned dozens of times – on the television, in the hotel and on the front pages of both The Globe and Mail, and The Toronto Star, even while I was in line for the ferry. Why? Because a month ago, while the rest of the city’s news media gossiped, looked for string or looked the other way, Gawker wrote that Rob Ford, the mayor of Toronto, had been caught on video smoking crack cocaine.”
What impressed Mr. Carr was how new media had beaten out old media … or the established, professional news sources. He went on, “The story got new life on Thursday morning, when law enforcement officials staged a huge raid in the area where the mayor is said to have been taped, and they made a number of arrests. All anybody could talk about was how it might affect the mayor. Mr. Ford has repeatedly denied that such a tape exists or that he uses crack cocaine.”By traditional news standards, what Gawker did was transgressive every which way: it called a sitting mayor of the fourth-largest city in North America a crackhead based on a video that it said it had seen but did not possess. It also asked its readers to chip in to pay for its version of journalism. (“Oh, you mean like The New York Times does every day with its paywall?” quipped Mr. Cook.)
“Traditional news organizations used to be free to break news – or not – in their backyard and on their chosen beats. Now they have to be looking over their shoulder – at everyone. And in virtually every aspect of culture, from business to technology to fashion, the big guys now compete with a range of Web sites that break their share of news through obsessiveness and hyperfocus.”
He added, “The business disruption in the media world caused by the Internet has been well documented. But a monopoly on scoops, long a cherished franchise for established and muscular news organizations, is disappearing. Big news will now carve its own route to the ocean, and no one feels the need to work with the traditional power players to make it happen.”
Further on, he wrote, “If an abuse of power akin to Watergate happened today, it might not take the might and muscle of The Washington Post to get the story. The Mitt Romney ’47 percent’ video, arguably a turning point in the last presidential campaign, came out on the Web site of Mother Jones, a relatively small, liberal magazine.”
Mr. Carr continued, “… once big news breaks, everyone is forced to follow along.” So it’s no longer a case of follow the leader so much as follow the story. And the story could break anywhere, any time.
“Glenn Greenwald, a columnist for The Guardian, broke the news of systematic surveillance by the National Security Agency, after he was chosen by Edward Snowden as a conduit for a big leak. Having a large presence in Washington and a brand name does not ensure news supremacy: Mr. Greenwald is a former lawyer turned journalistic advocate of civil liberties – an American writing for a newspaper based in Britain while living in Brazil.
“Because a source picked him to break the biggest story of the year, the rest of us did as well. And the video that accompanied it … allowed Mr. Snowden to make his own case before he was defined by media and government. ‘There has been an institutional bias that traditional outlets cling to – that anyone who doesn’t do the things that they do in the way that they do them isn’t doing real journalism,’ Mr. Greenwald said in a phone interview. ‘Since nobody can say that the stories that we did are not serious journalism that has had a very big impact, the last week will forever put an end to that myth.’
“In this instance, the historical strengths of big news organizations like the one I work for – objectivity, deep sources in the government and a history of careful reporting – were seen by Mr. Snowden as weaknesses. He went to Mr. Greenwald because they share values, because Mr. Greenwald is a loud and committed opponent of the national security apparatus and because he is not worried what the government thinks of his reporting.
“Of course, Mr. Greenwald had the international reach of The Guardian behind his story, and Mr. Snowden also shared information with The Washington Post, although it was clear that Mr. Greenwald’s past coverage on the issue was as important as where he worked.
“The way to break a big story used to be simple,” Mr. Carr summed up. “Get the biggest outlet you can to take an interest in what you have to say, deliver the goods and then cross your fingers in hopes that they play it large.
“That’s now over. Whether it’s dodgy video that purports to show a public official smoking crack or a huge advance in the public understanding of how our government watches us, news no longer needs the permission of traditional gatekeepers to break through. Scoops can now come from all corners of the media map and find an audience just by virtue of what they reveal.”
It’s up to us, now.
The Journal of Henry David Thoreau offers some piquant guidance to all of us at this cross-roads of global communication: “Do not seek expressions, seek thoughts to be expressed.” (source: Thoreau on why not to quote Thoreau)
Much of what we see in e-mails and online postings is predigested, regurgitated “content.” What Thoreau might have called “manure.” There’s even a virtual army of so-called writers in developing countries with only a glancing knowledge of English claiming to provide “content” and SEO for U.S. and European Web sites, as if “content” is some kind of end unto itself. That, too, is an aberration – the word “content” entirely altered in meaning and significance. (I’m reminded of the truly odd experience of being in a restaurant that referred to main courses as “protein” and side dishes as “root vegetables and starch.”)
So, a funny thing happened on the way to the World Wide Web – journalism has changed, how we get our news has changed, what we consider authorship has changed, even what we considered news has changed. There was an old expression: “it must be true if you read it in the newspapers.” It seems that there could be nothing farther from the truth today.
Are commercials leaving TV?
Something is changing, slowly and steadily. Have you noticed? Commercials are moving online as videos, and they’re spreading virally.
An online “commercial” does not have to be exactly 30 seconds or 60 seconds, the way they are on TV. No one cares. In fact, when they’re funny and entertaining you almost don’t want them to end.
This is a major breakthrough. Think about this stunning fact: Volkswagen paid NBC approximately $3.5 million to run a 30-second spot of barking dogs during the Super Bowl. What’s the cost for running a spot online? You guessed it, zero. Production costs are production costs either way, but free air time is the astounding, revolutionary breakthrough.
Some advertising history.
Ad Age sets the date of the first newspaper advertisement in America as 1704. (If you look at a European timeline, it could go back to early Rome.) When advertising first hit the pages of newspapers, it was something of a revelation: you could reach far more people via print than other methods. Online advertising – a very recent phenomenon – is still working out the kinks. But it could change everything.
The options for getting the word out way back when were limited. You could hire somebody to wear sandwich boards or paste posters on walls. In both those cases, your advertisement would only be seen by people who were in the physical vicinity of your signs. Newspapers, however, went far and wide, and were also shared. They proved to be a far more effective method of getting the word out.
And so it progressed, first with the addition of radio and then television. While folks who faithfully listened to early radio shows might grumble about the “announcements” that interrupted their shows, the reality was that there would have been no shows at all without the “sponsor.” Ideas for radio shows were either sold to sponsors or they never got past the idea stage. Television was the same – no sponsors, no show.
The cost of advertising.
Advertising has always had a symbiotic relationship with media. First newspapers, then radio, then television. And that relationship was based on CPM: cost per thousand. The CPM model refers to advertising bought on the basis of “impressions.” The total price paid for CPM is calculated by multiplying the CPM rate by the number of CPM units. For example, one million impressions at $10 CPM equals a $10,000 total price.
1,000,000 ÷ 1,000 = 1,000 units // 1,000 units X $10 CPM = $10,000 total price
To drill down further to the cost per impression, divide the CPM by 1000. For example, a $10 CPM equals $.01 per impression.
$10 CPM ÷ 1000 impressions = $.01 per impression
That’s a very different model from online advertising where payment is only triggered by an agreed upon event, such as click-through, registration or sale.
The new (cough, cough) paradigm.
Here’s a commercial that as far as I know has only appeared online (and only could have): http://www.dollarshaveclub.com/
Commercials can cost a great deal to produce. I worked on one AT&T spot that hit the million-dollar mark. But that’s still only the cost of production – then comes the cost of putting the million-dollar spot on the air.
The people at Dollar Shave Club have achieved a lot of attention with a clearly low-budget production and a fairly low marketing budget. They needed a Web site that supported their strategy and their approach. And they needed to produce their online spot. All together it sill has to be far less money than a national TV buy.
I think this is brilliant. (FastCompany and Huffington Post, among many others, seem to agree.) Producing a low-cost video then posting it online bypasses the traditional media costs associated with TV commercials … which most of us no longer even watch.
I think this is the future of advertising. What do you think?
(added 5/6/2012: A fascinating, in-depth, social media story on How McDonalds came back bigger than ever.)
(added 5/11/2012: A great spot you better watch before they take it down … click the “full screen” symbol and turn up the sound.)
This is your mind online.
Forget lunch … there’s no such thing as a free online story. The bill has come due and the cost is our sanity.
Pop-ups. Banners. Footers. Ads. Videos. Flash. Shockwave. (“Where’s the story? What was I trying to read?”)
The real news here is how much worse it is every day. Harder and harder to read anything online. Distractions and disturbances that outdo an over-crowded pre-school day-care center during snack time. We’re losing our marbles. (More of them every day.)
Take The Washington Post. A once-prestigious newspaper, the Post online is now like a 1960s Times Square streetwalker – all flash and distraction trying to get you to buy something. They lure us in with “View photo gallery” as part of news stories, then subject us to downloading and viewing commercials. Highly inappropriate when you’re reading about self-immolating Tibetans protesting the Chinese occupation.
And they are not alone. Chicago Tribune, same story. L. A. Times, ditto. Yes, I’m using pop-up blockers and have turned off third-party everything … but “they” are sneaky. They use new tricks every day.
I’m not even talking about Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and one’s own blog. I’m talking about trying to keep up with national and global events, seeking to be informed online, and feeling thwarted by “new media.” Being so utterly distracted leads one to simply give up and click that red “X” at the top right corner of the screen.
Oh yeah, it tuns out half the prescriptions we take have been shown to cause memory loss. That doesn’t help. While Ritalin can’t fix this particular type of attention deficit, there is help. A few years ago I discovered Readability.com. (Get it. Load it into your shortcuts. You’ll love it.) It has saved many brain cells whenever pages have opened with way-too-much-stuff-going-on.
Without tools like that, most of us give up in a nanosecond and forget about the story we were trying to read. Not worth it. Clicking the “Print” button often doesn’t do the trick since even those pages can have “eye candy.” (No thanks.)
Is it a newspaper or the strip in Vegas?
I began my professional career in P.R., in the music business, in Hollywood. I saw the best and worst aspects of journalism up close while trying to uphold standards. My job was working with the national press, maintaining contact with music reviewers and editors across the country to promote new albums and artist tours. After three-plus years, I got to know which were the really good pubs in the country, and which were merely bird cage liner.
Journalism meant something, and it had taken a long, long time to get it to that point of professionalism and accountability. Today, the world is changing faster than we can swap out light bulbs. The most seismic shift is that we no longer get our news primarily from print or broadcast. We go online.
Everything that was newspapers, magazines, radio and television only existed because of advertising revenue. Now that we have Tivo, and satellite radio and online news, advertisers need to find other ways to snare us. That’s what’s really leading the change in our lives and challenging our ability to focus. Technology is being created in response to marketing demands, not just the other way around.
The method to the madness? Traditional print and broadcast news is slowly disappearing. So media is trying to survive and make money via clicks vs. the advertising revenue they used to count on. Now they’re counting nickels instead of dollars, and they’re counting on clicks to roll them in.
Is this where advertising is headed?
Professional marketers are dismayed by the penny arcade approach to online marketing. How does it advance a brand to be the online equivalent of a circus barker? Look at The Denver Post online. It’s like the junk mail circulars tossed in our mail boxes by uncaring postal workers. That stuff isn’t even fit to line bird cages.
There’s a famous quote attributed in the U.K. to Lord Leverhulme (Lever Bros.) and in the U.S. to John Wanamaker (often called the father of department stores and advertising) which is taught in marketing classes around the globe: “I know that half of my advertising budget is wasted. I just don’t know which half.”
Guess what: those were the good old days. Online marketing hardly requires the kind of budgets that packaged goods producers and department stores considered a required cost of doing business. Online marketing is cheaper than dirt. It’s also highly invasive and often entirely un-targeted. There are claims that pop-ups and banners and Google ads only appear in relation to our searches and histories, but it’s still a wild goose chase.
The bottom line is that online advertising has to work much harder to grab our attention, so our attention is being pulled hard in multiple directions. Plus, the pay-off for online marketing is minimal. Just because we click on a link – whether by accident or on purpose – it doesn’t mean we actually intend to buy the thing that drew our attention.
The problem, as I see it, is that the medium affects the message. When we used to read things in print, if an ad interested us we could choose to read it. We might have grumbled at teen models covering entire pages when we were trying to read a story, but they were also easy to ignore. Turn, fold, read. Now that crap jumps in your face, whether you care about it or not. Without ways to stop the distractions, we lose interest, focus, etc. Welcome to life with ADD.
It’s not unlike spam. In many ways. However, the problem with that simile is that spam sadly works. It’s a billion-dollar industry built on false claims and complete deception. And only a tiny percentage of recipients need to respond for spammers to make a profit and determine they should keep it up. Marketers see that it works, and they want a piece of the pie. But that pie, ultimately, is being thrown in our faces.
We’re at a crossroads in marketing – real “marketing,” by the way, as in communication, not sales. On the one hand, you have the rabid mob screaming “social media,” and on the other you have the voice of experience, wisdom and reason saying, “hold on, there bubba, social media is still just one, small component of a total marketing strategy and campaign.”
By the way, this is a true crossroads: there are four directions from which to choose. In addition to understanding the difference between “social media” and “targeted marketing,” anyone who manages marketing is also facing a decision on whether to hire “technologists” vs. true advertising and marketing professionals.
What’s a technologist?
Ever since the Mac was introduced, software has been following which automates the creation of all things communication – ads, posters, brochures, flyers, Web sites, etc. Much of that automation software became available to PC owners as well. The result is that a great many of the folks who call themselves designers and writers are, too often, simply owners of hardware and software. “Technologists” in my book. Many can do an adequate job, but they will also have a limited repertoire of designs and approaches. Especially if they’re self-taught.
Of course, none of those folks think of themselves as “technologists.” So you can’t find out just by asking. How can you tell the difference? With some basic, pointed questions: “Got any formal training?” “Where have you worked?” “Got any clients who can provide success stories?”
Things can get tricky, though. Everyone is using the technology now, even those of us with training and exprertise. So the fact that designers and art directors use hardware and software doesn’t necessarily make them “technologists.” To know the difference between the pros and the pretenders will take a little digging.
(Here was a sure giveaway: one of them, an impertinent young pup, referred to print materials as “offline” marketing. Harrumph.)
The advertising Catch 22.
In the days of David Ogilvy, one couldn’t get a job in advertising unless one already had one. Tricky, isn’t it? That was still going on when I finally got to Madison Ave. How did we overcome that? That’s a secret. (O.k., I’ll tell.) When you didn’t have actual samples from actual jobs, you had to create your own. You had to prove yourself. You had to run a gauntlet, many times over. And then you had to watch your back while everyone around you was eyeing your office. (Ah, yes, those were the days.)
It wasn’t all fun and games, though – you actually got one hell of an education. After a dozen years on Madison Ave. you could take on any Harvard MBA, and win. They couldn’t slice and dice your presentations and campaign positioning because you’d been through the ringer in-house before you ever got to the client’s offices. You knew exactly why you were recommending a specific direction and ultimately so did your client. (Not quite the same with many of the “marketing folk” vying for your business today.)
Is “new” always “better?”
New is often just “new,” and not automatically “better.” Although everyone has heard the expression “snake oil salesman,” everyone still hopes for magic and is desperate to believe that it’s out there. So when the social media bandwagon showed up, everyone was ready to jump on it, hoping it was a magical shortcut to quick riches and fame.
But the basics of marketing haven’t changed one iota. (The fundamental things apply, as time goes by.) Whether you’re using Twitter or Facebook or your own Web site, your messaging has to be compelling and relevant to your true target audience. Without that, you’ve got zip. No matter how many “followers” you may have.
Anyone who works in any form of marketing or communication can’t help paying attention to what’s going on in the world. Whether it’s technology innovations, or business trends in our areas of expertise – we simply have to notice, and we unavoidably must have an opinion.
Who let them in?
It’s becoming more and more challenging to achieve quality in communications because of how many non-professionals are cluttering the field. The Internet has not only changed everything, it has also kinda, sorta leveled the playing field … by bringing the bar down to barely inches above the ground.
What a lot of them don’t get is that branding isn’t a single event, it’s an ongoing, never-ending process. And every marketing decision you take can make or break your brand.
Why choose a pro over a non-pro? Maybe an analogy would help. Let’s say you decide you’d like to be trained to shoot. Would you prefer to be trained by someone who had bought their first gun last month, or someone who’s been through all the military and police training available on all kinds of firearms? That’s pretty much the situation that people in your marketing shoes are facing today.
Remember, guns don’t kill people, bad ads do.
The harm we do.
(As David Mamet repeats ad nauseum,) here’s the thing: advertising is the life-blood of free-market capitalism. It’s the critical building block of our competitive marketplace. Without advertising’s ability to create awareness of options, choices, innovations and benefits, none of the global, powerhouse brands would even exist. None. And the world would be a very different place.
If it weren’t for highly effective marketing, we’d likely have just one brand of automobile, or soap, or burger. We’d likely have just one place to buy clothing. Might as well be communists, right?
But that doesn’t mean that all we do in the name of competitive advantage is good and just. Much of what we’ve done is inexcusable. For one, our profession has permanently affected language in negative ways that may well never be changed back.
Just one example is “think different” (created by TBWA\Chiat\Day … not Apple.) That intentional aberration of adverb use (along with its gap-toothed cousin from AT&T, “rethink possible”) has wrongly taught at least one generation, and infuriated a good many of us.
Another highly annoying example is “lite,” the moronic bastardization of “light” that has become the norm for beer, music, “healthy menu options” – just one more aberration that confuses the hell out of school children. Does this stuff bother you the way it bothers me?
Granted, the English language is highly inconsistent. We say bite, but not nite (or lite … or nite-lite). Bear and tear serve multiple purposes. It takes practice and focus to keep it straight. Knowing and sticking to the rules is the only way to make certain things are as clear as possible.
Language defines us.
So, is it all right to be hip and cool at the expense of language? Be careful how you answer that. To many (me included), language is culture – the very thing that defines who we are.
English in the U.S. is already 400 years away from English in the U.K. We’re culturally distinct. (The editors of the Oxford English Dictionary have said that in less than 200 years’ time we’ll need translators.)
How powerful is language? Imagine that one morning every German suddenly could only speak Italian, and all Italians could only speak German. Would they still be Germans and Italians? If that morning had occurred in the 1930s, would there have even been a WWII?
You see where this is heading. Language doesn’t just inform us, it defines us; language conveys our level of consciousness; language is what distinguishes us from all other life forms. So how can ad agencies be so casual about its fundamental laws of use?
The before-our-time Madison Avenue slogan “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” outraged grammarians and educated people everywhere back in the 50s. Yet it stuck. For 20 years. Such is the power of advertising. If you’ve seen it in print, it’s hard to argue against it.
“Winston tastes good as a cigarette should” hardly would have sounded as snappy in the brand-making, RJR cigarette-selling jingle of early television days.
“Think differently” would likely have not had as much of an impact as the entirely incorrect version that has come to define Apple.
But at what cost?
This is your brain on advertising.
The very language that we’re taught and depend on to communicate clearly and effectively is what suffers the consequences. At the very least, we’ll have more and more misguided “copywriters” bastardizing the English (or your choice) language.
What am I talking about? Take a look at these jaw-dropping, grammar-destroying automobile commercials:
Mercedes C-Class Coupe – More power. More style, More technology. Less doors. (Uggghhhh. I can hear the copywriter’s mind working … “People say ‘more or less,’ right? Not ‘more or fewer.’ So it must be ‘less.’ Besides, we don’t want to be less hip than Apple…”)
Honda Civic – To each their own. (Ouch. This noun subject and possessive pronoun disagreement may well have arisen from a desire to be ‘PC.’ … “You know, why ‘his,’ why does it have to be male-oriented all the time? What? Singular, plural? What are you talking about? Let’s just go with ‘their.’” “Yeah, dude, ‘their.’”)
[That's a whole other topic: if you don't use a cliché in its original form, it loses its power.]
This slope is very slippery.
See where this is going? See how things are snowballing? As more grammar-flaunting (grammar-ignorant?) “copywriters” decide that they, too can bend the rules, the ill-advised will be increasing the number of the ill-educated. And who’s at fault? Yep, ad agencies.
It must be a conscious decision to warp grammar in order to suit a marketing concept. There’s even a warping of a “rule” to justify it: The Pareto Principle – the 80/20 rule, which originally described how 20 percent of Italian landowners owned 80 percent of the land.
As applied in advertising, the Pareto principle has come to mean that 80 percent of sales come from 20 percent of a specific target audience. In the case of messing with language and grammar, the ad agency self-justification seems to be that 80 percent of people won’t care about bad (or non-existent) grammar … or even recognize it. (Shudder.)
Clearly, I’m one of the 20 percent. Are you? Wonder if we should occupy something …
The sheep in wolf’s clothing.
A great deal of social media is a sheep in wolf’s clothing. There’s absolutely nothing simpler than posting an opinion or an article to a blog, or a brief message on Twitter, etc. Does that mean everything we see and read is trustworthy, reliable … even true?
One of the biggest lies is about SEO. So many folks out there are still shouting that SEO is the end-all and be-all of marketing. But you know better. You’ve been frustrated by pointless search results that bring up mash-ups of rehashed articles that ultimately say nothing of interest or importance. That’s why Google has clamped down on SEO abusers.
And that’s one reason we’re all suffering Social Media Fatigue.
Here comes the research.
The Gartner Group’s December, 2010 and January, 2011 survey of 6000+ social networking users – among the first adopters of Social Media – showed that they’re experiencing fatigue and are visiting social networking sites such as Facebook less often. Gartner’s recommendation: “Advertising and marketing firms should re-think their stance as this survey might point to the beginning of boredom as a result of the ‘social media fatigue.’”
They said “people are bored,” but they didn’t say “why.” I can tell them. It’s not just about being overwhelmed by too many sites and options multiple times per day; it’s because of the truly dreadful writing you find on so many of the sites. If there actually was good content, would we be so bored? So fatigued?
Professional writers constantly see pleas for help writing “content.” That’s because so many businesses have launched Web sites and Web-based businesses without really thinking through content. So when we get there, we find little of value, and simply click away.
These dolts believe that all they need is “words” to hold people’s interest … any words. So they’re paying SEO and “content writers” to provide said words.
However, most of these so-called writers couldn’t create compelling match-book covers. Bad content is bad content. People will always click away.
Welcome to the Wild West.
The World Wide Web is the Wild West of today. Seemingly, anything goes. It’s cheap, it’s easy, and more and more software comes out every day that does most of it for you … except for creating compelling content.
Think of it this way: you’ve decided to launch a new magazine. It’s going to be a doozy. It will top all other magazines that have come before. So, how will you do that? Could you possibly, just maybe need some really good writing to fill those stellar pages? Are there that many great writers out there with articles at their fingertips to enthrall the throngs waiting for your whopper publication? Sadly, no. (You knew that, of course.)
Listen up people: no content, no audience.
Web sites that are like this fictional magazine are desperate for stuff to fill their pages. Unfortunately, there’s no shortage of truly bad writers offering wholly unoriginal, uninspiring content. Once again, we get there, take a quick look around … and click away.
That’s why contemporary marketing departments are stuck between a rock and a mouse click. They feel they have to have a “social media component.” But they’re never entirely sure it’s working. Maybe that’s because it’s not. If it was, you’d know. If we found something tremendously interesting, we’d spread the word in a nanosecond.
The wedding dress story.
Some years ago, a fellow who seemed in every way a down-home, even red-neck kind of guy put his ex-wife’s wedding dress up for sale on eBay. The writing was down-to-earth, straightforward and hilarious. For example he wrote, “I’ve been told that you have to have someone model clothing. Since I don’t have anyone to do that, I’m just putting on the dress myself.” Yes, he had photos of his burly self in a wedding dress. The reaction was likely the textbook definition of “going viral.” It had more hits in less time than anything ever before on eBay. He even got multiple marriage proposals. And the dress sold for a very high figure.
So “social media” can work, if the content is compelling, interesting or relevant. But that’s rare these days. Most of it isn’t any of those things. And that’s why we’re just plain bored with it.
Marketing is far more than merely making a statement. The “if you build it they will come” approach doesn’t work. Seriously. “Hey! We’re here! Come on in!” Seriously?
It takes real marketing to bring real attention to both your business and … your marketing. Because the first job of any marketing worth its salt is to call attention to itself. And hold onto it. The best way to do that is for your marketing to convey not just what you do but also how it benefits your specific target audience. If your Web site is merely an electronic business card, it will only be noticed if you push it into someone’s hands.
In today’s “online first” approach to marketing, many firms are shouting to be heard among billions of others shouting just as loudly. The question is: “how do you make your voice stand out?”
What is real marketing?
Ask that question and you’ve opened a real Pandora’s box – endless answers, opinions and variations will bubble up. Historically, the concept of offering to sell something to someone else was associated with carnival barkers and “snake-oil” salesmen. (Naturally, that kind of history makes us “professionals” want to avert our eyes.)
But marketing is much older than that. As old as rug merchants and camel traders in souks and bazaars – the pre-Christian era, and the kind of Oriental markets that lured Marco Polo. Those, um, business people pre-dated used-car salesmen by at least a few thousand years in hawking their goods as if they were the finest ever produced in their corner of the world.
The point is, marketing has undergone an evolution. It’s evolved from “making claims” to presenting “benefits.” Give people a compelling reason to listen to your pitch and you’re heading toward better marketing – real marketing.
In the 50s and 60s, gasoline companies were led by savvy marketers to talk about “the experience of the road” rather than about the components of their noxious product. That was something big. They were guided into talking about the benefits of using their fine petroleum distillates rather than the gasoline itself. (Eventually, though, they moved on to claim that their ingredients were tops, or clean your engine, or give you better mileage … you get the idea.)
How to get there.
Giving things new names doesn’t always make them better. So beware “branding” experts when entering marketing waters. Building a brand and an identity involves much more than merely a checklist of what current, self-styled “professionals” refer to as branding.
The basic rules of marketing will always apply: (a) define and refine your core message about your offering; (b) determine your true target audience; (c) determine what that audience needs or wants; (d) determine who else is doing what you do and what they say; (e) make sure you have at least one point of differentiation; (f) make sure your benefits are clear; (g) make sure your messaging “speaks” to your true target audience’s concerns, needs and desires.
What’s happened recently in marketing is a mass move to an online presence led by technologists, not marketers. Many of them claim to be marketing experts, and many of them cry “social media” much like that boy in the fable about the wolf. But they often know not what they say. Social media can never be more than one component of a complete marketing strategy. And it’s still in its infancy.
Remember The Great Oz behind the curtain pulling levers and cords, saying “Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain“? That’s a good metaphor for social media as marketing.
Remember who you’re talking to.
We don’t produce marketing for ourselves – we do it for our specific and distinct target audience. So it’s not about what you or I like. It’s about what “they” like. Too often, clients think their tastes should dictate the messaging. But what if your tastes are nothing like your audience’s? Will you lose your audience – and sales – by sticking to off-base messaging?
And if you’ve already dipped your toes into the social-media-as-marketing waters, you’ve already learned that “followers” seldom equal “customers.” You have to do a lot more work to get that pay-off.
Social media may have altered the landscape, but it hasn’t changed the basic rules of marketing. Client, know thy audience.
The Amazon.com model may be entirely Web-based, but is everything? Is your business? Not if you’re in a service business, a retail business or in business-to-business. For those, the classic marketing rules apply. And assuming a Web site and a social media agenda is the be-all and end-all of marketing will land you in the twilight zone of one-dimensional marketing.
My problems with social media.
Quite recently, Google began severely limiting how several of the largest placers of SEO (search engine optimization) can do business. Why? They finally had to admit that the quality of online searches had been significantly degraded by “SEO tricks” that always placed certain companies (e.g., JC Penney) at the top. People were starting to lose interest in even searching on Google. And, worse, Google was losing credibility.
That’s one problem. The other problem is the very anti-climactic explosion of so-called “social media marketing.” Is it really marketing if it’s social media? Seriously.
Jaron Lanier, one of the original Internet gurus, has himself said that much is wanting in terms of what happens when we view “search results.” His warning is that the methods of aggregating data now leave out the human element. In other words, searches will bring up results, but they may be futile, and worse, frustrating. Why? Because SEO can be rigged, like bad slot machines. What Lanier says is that SEO is ultimately marketing to machines, not people. It’s based on bringing about certain results between computers, not humans.
Sadly, social media marketing can indeed force us to momentarily look at results and ads that are wholly irrelevant, but if a certain percentage of naïve folks click on those links, the SEO “gurus” rate that as a success. It ain’t necessarily so. It’s a numbers game, not a targeted marketing campaign.
The next big thing isn’t really that big.
Very few of the very young proponents of social media know much about advertising. Most of them are technologists, not conceptual creative people. They also know little about recent advertising history. For example, how everything about advertising changed in the 1980s when the Saatchi brothers and then the WPP Group (led by Martin Sorrell, the disgruntled former employee of Saatchi & Saatchi) ran amok with mega-mergers.
The tone, quality, look and feel of American advertising was never the same again once so many professionals ended up on the streets as a result of what the British call “redundancy.” (A very appropriate term since both the Saatchis and Sorrell are British, and are now either Lords or Sirs … follow the money.)
Part of the outcome of all the ugly mergers was the burgeoning of smaller shops, most in places other than New York, Chicago or L.A. Boutiques became more common, and creativity got a second chance at life.
Then, over the past decade, social media started to poke its head out of the horizon. To those of us who came of out Madison Ave. agencies, trained in surgical marketing techniques, we instantly saw social media for what it was: a shotgun approach to marketing or branding. The social media approach is diametrically opposed to the targeted marketing approach.
I know of lots of folks who will claim that you can slice and dice Facebook, Twitter, etc. like other media, but I frankly believe they know not what they talk about. You can also see numbers on how many people drive down a certain highway. That doesn’t mean they’re all heading to your business.
Where’s the science? Where’s the methodology?
My experience has shown that you can’t truly target a specific audience through social media. You can “assume” you have, and you can also “hope” that you’ve attracted the right “followers” for the right reasons. Saying, “dear client you have 5,000 fans on your Facebook page” is ultimately a far cry from buying lists for specific zip codes or doing magazine buys like “Vogue” or “Car & Driver,” or buying TV spots during the Super Bowl.
Just because someone “likes” your company on Facebook doesn’t mean they actually “like” your offering. That’s a whole other kettle of fish. And even if you have 30,000 “followers” on Twitter, what does that actually translate to in sales? (I’m waiting …)
The biggest advances in advertising (e.g. Doyle Dane Bernbach) were symbiotic with the growth and sophistication of research and media departments. Social media is an entirely different ball game, and has very little to do with what was achieved in the best years of Madison Ave. when advertising became both a science and a methodology. The creative was always the wild card, but it could always be measured against a very well-defined strategy to make certain it was at least on target. (Remember creative briefs?)
With social media, you’re ultimately saying the same thing to everyone at the same time. Google Adwords, for example, are very similar to billboards on highways. They have milliseconds to get their message across. And there’s no way of knowing that the exact right people are on that very highway on the very same days when the billboard is up. While clicks are an indication of something, they’re not at all the same as telling us know how long people actually stay on a page, or what they do as a result of “visiting.”
You’re on social media right now, right?
Am I suggesting we ignore social media? Of course not. (I’m doing this blog, aren’t I?) I’m saying that marketing is evolving, and that social media is still figuring itself out. We don’t entirely know where things are headed. What we do know is that we all zap TV commercials now, we listen to anything but radio in the car, and print media is struggling to stay alive. Things on the social media landscape are nothing like the creative for which some of us won One Show, Clio or Andy awards.
We can (and must) create “spiders” with online media, but are their results anywhere as precise as knowing who reads “Nature” or “Sports Illustrated” or ” Better Homes and Gardens?” Clearly not. Yes, social media results can kinda, sorta tell you who’s searching on “dry skin issues” (although blocking “cookies” defeats that). But it doesn’t help you much beyond seeing numbers for the search. You may know that some folks drilled all the way down to a $2.00 coupon for some dry skin treatment. But then what do you really know? Was there actually a sale, or was there merely someone intent enough to actually drill all the way down?
There are only two ways I can get information about who’s visiting this site: Google Analytics (anonymous) and comments. The lack of precision is my bugaboo. Along with the fact that social media is largely dependent on numerical averaging vs. real “reader/viewer/listener/visitor” stats about “real humans.” (Back to Jaron Lanier). Alas, what we get more than anything with social media is spam. Put yourself “out there” and the “there” bites back. (I delete around 10 per day.)
The Internet has changed the world. Literally. And social media is one of the outcomes. It’s certainly here to stay. But it’s also certainly far from fully formed. (Infancy would not be a stretch.) When a client asks for links to FB, Twitter, blogs, etc. on their new Web site, I always ask, “Who’s going to maintain them?” “Who’s going to keep the content fresh?” “Who’s going to make sure your spiders are up to date?” Hardly anyone ever knows the answers to those questions.
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