The hit show Mad Men depicted the perpetually drunk, womanizing ad genius Don Draper as a fairly accurate representation of the ad industry in the 1960s. But more telling than the volume of booze consumed in the office, was how the show used actual ads from the period – giving us a rare glimpse at how advertising has evolved.
Don and the team created print ads that showed smiling housewives in poofy dresses and men with fedoras, often with several paragraphs of copy – far too much for today’s consumer, who is more accustomed to Tweets of 140 characters than they are essays on why doctors smoke Lucky Strikes more than any other cigarette.
The front line of advertising today is in the social media sphere, and advertisers are beginning to realize the value that a social media influencer with millions of followers can bring to a brand. Those advertisers are willing to pay top dollar – sometimes six figures – for an influencer to incorporate brand mentions and photos into Tweets or Instagram posts.
“Big-budget television advertisements get the word out, but they cast a wide net, and targeting is imprecise,” said Aaron Leupp, founder of PromoAffiliates, a company that promotes clients like Uber by working with social media influencers to offer free promo codes on their social channels. “Television producers may boast tens of millions of primetime viewers, but how many of those are really potential buyers? Social media influencer marketing can be much more effective, even if the numbers are lower, because there is a personal connection between influencer and follower that television advertising can never duplicate.”
Because of that personal connection, the content the influencer shares is more approachable and authentic. “The product placement landscape has drastically changed with the rise of social media influencers,” said Benjamin Bourinat, Global Director, Social Media at Kinetic Worldwide. “Those include artists, creators, but really anyone who’s got style or a cute face and knows how to promote it on Instagram. But most importantly, they’re real people. They have jobs, families and engage in activities their social audiences can relate to.”
Whatever happened to digital advertising?
In a word – adblockers. A popular Internet meme says that you are more likely to die in a plane crash than click on a banner ad. “Banner ads are rapidly losing ground, as advertisers look to engage consumers on a more authentic and personalized level,” said Leupp. “Personalization has always been the goal, but old-school advertising tried to do that through the message, but there was always a divide between brand and consumer simply because of the distance created by the delivery vehicle. Social influencer marketing achieves more meaningful personal connection, because of the closer connection that exists between the influencer and consumer, and the highly personal nature of the delivery vehicles such as Twitter and Instagram.”
“A social media product placement can build persona for a brand,” said Bourinat. “It also shows the product contextually, in a real-life setting. The main challenge is to ensure your product fits their voice so the placement doesn’t commercial. That’s why influencers are so picky about brand endorsements. Brands needs to look at how their identity matches those of the influencers, and therefore their followers. So it’s a traditional look at demographics.”
Informal influencing gets some new rules
Social media influencers, because they are individuals and not publishers, tend to see the commercial influence model as informal, but high-profile influencers like Kim Kardashian West are seeing more scrutiny – and as a result, must treat their paid posts as advertisements, with proper disclosure. Kardashian was targeted by the FTC last year when she posted on Instagram about Diclegis, a morning sickness drug. More recently, Kardashian, as well as other influencers, have begun marking promotional social posts with the #ad designation.
Warner Bros. also incurred the wrath of the FTC when they paid YouTube stars like PewDiePie and others to promote a video game, without instructing the influencers to make a disclosure. According to the FTC, some influencers placed the disclosure in the description box below the video, but Warner Bros. also required additional information to be placed in the box, and the disclosure itself was visible only if the consumer clicked the “show more” button.
7.7 million views and counting
A subtle but transparent form of influencer marketing, PromoAffiliates’ Aaron Leupp works with influencers, who include promo codes in their posts. Leupp has been instrumental in creating Uber’s social influencer campaign, seen for example in a popular YouTube video from prankster Coby Persin. In the video, now at more than 7.7 million views, Coby takes over his friend’s Uber account for a day, and the unsuspecting passenger gets the shock of a lifetime when instead of being picked up in a simple Toyota as expected, Coby drives up in a shiny new Bugatti sports car.
“The quality of the video and the entertainment of the prank itself is the most important part of the video,” said Leupp. “The video itself focuses on content, with no call to action or advertising included; Coby merely included a single line in the information box offering an Uber promo code for a free first ride. Over-the-top ‘buy me now’ messages aren’t going to resonate with a social audience. People love Coby’s pranks, and that’s exactly what they got in this video. For this type of marketing to work, it has to be sincere, transparent, and personal.”
Like everything digital, social media has evolved. It’s no longer limited to private conversations and cute kitty pictures, and an emerging new type of celebrity – the social media star – is redefining how social channels will be used. Increasingly, those stars put significant time and money into high-quality productions, and Coby’s videos for example, are far from the home-made smartphone videos that seem to populate the Web. This phenomenon contributes to an overall increase in quality, and a more entertaining Internet. Those productions require support, and savvy advertisers are providing it.