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Being a truly social brand is apparently no easy task

I've read a few articles in recent months about the "death" of social marketing. We columnists have a penchant for premature obituaries. I recall football being condemned as a "dying sport" after tragic events in the 80s. Some condemned radio to death with the advent of television.

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So I’d say it was unlikely that social marketing was heading the same way as Monty Python’s parrot. Last weekend’s US Super Bowl media event suggested there was life in the (young) dog yet. But it has reached a crucial stage in its development.

Budweiser’s "puppy love" ad had been shared more than a million times within 24 hours, which is not to be sniffed at (excuse the canine puns) but is only 1 per cent of the Super Bowl TV audience.

The work was fine for the 100 million TV viewers, yet failed to provide the edge, the talkability, social channels demand

And despite the vast amount of investment in the social element of these campaigns – some say $5 million from the bigger brands this year – the social media buzz felt decidedly lacklustre.

This may be an unfortunate by-product of the investment level. Integration has been another buzzword, and the Super Bowl campaigns were certainly integrated, with the ad creative often trailed weeks before the game.

But this bluntly integrated approach can mitigate against creative output that chimes with social media. We saw predictable, bland campaigns from Budweiser, Coca-Cola and Chrysler: a surfeit of sweet American pie, fluffy animals, safe patriotism. The work was fine for the 100 million TV viewers, yet failed to provide the edge, the talkability, that social channels demand.

I would say that bland social marketing is indeed mortally wounded. But then brands need to be more "social" than ever. What’s required is a more complex and holistic approach – and it comes down to the inspired balance between "promotion" and "protection" elements mentioned here recently.

For example, one admires the new direction of Coke’s marketing, particularly its willingness to tackle real issues of ethnic diversity, conflict and obesity. But maybe it needs to polarise this approach depending on the channel. Social media campaigns can, and should, be more challenging than traditional media ones. That said, these conversations must be handled holistically with the comms team closely involved in calculating risk, listening carefully to consumer conversations and dealing with any emerging crises.

But this is what it means to be a social brand in 2014. It is all part of being a responsible corporate citizen. The "social" element has to be in the corporate DNA, not just the main promotional output. The conversations need to be real and they need to be challenging.

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