Social Media might just save Marketing. But not for the reason we think. (Re-post)

Lots of coverage in the last couple of days of the Toyota Yaris/Saatchi & Saatchi drama from Australia that I wrote about in my last post.  Tim from Mumbrella does an excellent summary of the whole episode here.

So I re-read this old post. The events of the last couple of days certainly highlight the dangers alluded to pretty well.

All those who have bemoaned the status that Marketing is accorded in most large organisations should take heart.  Our saviour might well be upon us.

It will be enormously ironic if it proves to be true, but my bet is that social media may yet see Marketing invited back to the boardroom table.

Why? Because the boardroom table respects those things that can either deliver great success or cause great harm.  For years Marketing hasn’t seemed to deliver much potential for either. Most Boards were highly sceptical of what value marketing could deliver (certainly when compared to more operational functions). And, in a logical corollary, they didn’t really fear what damage could be done if Marketing got something wrong.

They also didn’t really buy the argument that Marketing ‘owned’ the consumer.  Either because they didn’t see the need for the consumer to be at the heart of their business, or, more likely, because they felt that some combination of sales, retail, corporate affairs etc was just as capable of representing the consumer view.

We in the broader Marketing fraternity have found this frustrating and not a little insulting.  We tried very hard to argue that we knew exactly what we were doing, ours being a professional, regimented discipline, with proven success factors delivering strong return.  But (with apologies for being both simplistic and judgemental) we tended to fall down when called on to prove this, betrayed by our meaningless language and superficial analysis.

Our panic has increased as we’ve confronted a new digital world. We’ve seen our audience wrenched away, our traditional creative strengths made less relevant and, most frighteningly of all, the rise of social media with its democratisation of opinion, free sharing of points of view and returning of power to the people.

But this is actually what might save us.  Because social media is dangerous.  It has a power that every Board should be afraid of.  Its ability to galvanise people is remarkable, and its ability to galvanise people around an issue that can threaten any business needs to be respected.

And at the same time social media represents enormous opportunity, for it galvanises people around a positive issue just as effectively as a negative one.  It allows people to share in a great service initiative just as much as a botched one.

But while its unfortunate, the truth is that for most businesses fear dominates.  Fear forces decisions much more readily than opportunity, and my suspicion is that most businesses fear social media.   Which is where our opportunity lies.

Social media is Marketing’s responsibility (not entirely Marketing’s, obviously, but for the moment we’re the ones most likely to be taking the lead). And social media cements again the need for every businesses to have the consumer at its heart. Which is exactly where they, and we as Marketers, should be.

It will be ironic. Social media has been enormously unsettling for Marketers.  We don’t understand it yet and, if you’re of my vintage, it challenges much of what you’ve spent a career advocating.  But social media will revolutionise how businesses behave.  And it’s very likely to be fear of social media, the thing we marketers don’t really understand, that will see Marketing invited back to the boardroom table.

Once we’re there, hopefully we can help people see the opportunity too.

Toyota Yaris. The ad’s almost as shocking as Toyota’s limited grasp of Social Media.

The slightly bizarre ‘pitch’ being conducted in Australia for Toyota has come to an end. A pretty bewildering exercise has been brought to an almost perfect conclusion. Perfect, because it’s so spectacularly flawed.

Most of the discussion will focus on a genuinely offensive ad that was produced as part of the obligatory ‘create your own ad’ promo, the latest in a long line of similar user-generated content efforts. (Charlie Brooker wrote a particularly apt piece about loser-generated here, but given the bizarre incestuous overtones in this particular example, I’m coining the phrase abuser-generated content.)

But the bigger issue here isn’t the ad itself. It’s the considerable lack of understanding of Social Media exhibited by Toyota.

Anyway, it started with the announcement that a public pitch for Social Media activity for the Yaris brand would take place between five agencies. Each agency would produce a campaign. All would go live, and then Toyota would choose two agencies to produce more work in the New Year, presumably based on some measure of the effectiveness of the campaign they produced. After the work in the New Year has run, Toyota will then decide whether it is in a position to appoint a retained agency for Social Media.

The process began with eight agencies making presentations. Toyota intended to choose four to go to the second stage, each producing the campaign they had presented. Toyota then announced that five finalists had been chosen and that each would be given two weeks, and $15,000 to produce their campaign.

Todd Connolly, Toyota’s Manager – New Media and Direct Marketing, announced that “We have taken the ideas from everyone involved, both from traditional above-the-line agencies and boutique agencies. All eight were of a high calibre, all were very fresh ideas.” He explained that “the competition will run for approximately six weeks, but if any of the campaigns create “groundswell”, Toyota will continue the conversation with those customers”.

A few things about this puzzled me. (Let’s put aside why a group of agencies would choose to take part in a public beauty parade, with what seems a pretty vague promise that even a single agency will benefit from an ongoing relationship.) What I was really puzzled by were the comments in relation to Social Media. Now let me be clear. I am but a humble blogger. I’m not a social media expert. I don’t work for a social media agency. But I am an enthusiastic amateur, so don’t feel entirely unqualified to make some personal comments. Let’s look at a few of the observations from Toyota:

“All were very fresh ideas.” Really? What constitutes fresh in your world? Ooh look, this campaign consists of two Facebook fan pages. Hang on, this campaign’s a promotion inviting you to submit your own idea for an ad. No wait, this one’s got a stop-motion video featuring lego characters. I could be being unkind, they might be brilliantly executed, but they’re not particularly fresh are they? Not on account of all being commonly used mechanics and an already well-trodden video technique.

“The competition would run for approximately six weeks, but if any of the campaigns create “groundswell”, Toyota will continue the conversation with those customers”. If it creates groundswell, you’ll continue the conversation? What about those people who signed up for your fresh, new Facebook pages? Planning to abandon them? Or all those people who submit ideas for ads, or respond to your videos? Non-commital about whether to continue those conversations? You’re basically just not all that interested in doing anything with the people who make the effort to engage with Toyota as a result of any of the campaigns you’re planning to run unless a ‘groundswell’ justifies it? What do you think social media’s for?

But here is the shining conclusion to the make your own ad competition. By some margin the most sexist, offensive nonsense I’ve ever seen a mainstream brand put its name to. I’m getting old, I take offence too easily, it’s been said that I’m a little too inclined to pull myself up to my full height, but this is pretty disgraceful. Seriously.

Mumbrella wrote a piece about the film and the backlash to it. Todd Connolly, again, responded with “We wouldn’t distance ourselves from it by any means. It’s not an ad that we are putting to air. It’s user-generated content. I don’t really see it as an issue. The people on the jury who saw it thought it was funny and well made.”

I’ll bet you any sum of money you like you will distance yourself from it. You’ll do it as soon as the complaints start flooding in. You’ll do it as soon as the first staff member with a family and a spine tells you he’s ashamed to work for Toyota. And you’ll most certainly do it when the first women’s group calls for a boycott of Toyota. Perhaps they’ll set up a Facebook page, one I would wager will enlist a few more fans than the number your Yaris efforts managed.

How ignorant of Social Media can you possibly be? “It’s not an ad that we’re putting to air”. It’s on YouTube for Christ’s sake (or at least it was, before you removed it, hence the big, blank space above). I think we can safely consider YouTube to be ‘air’. Really popular, 340 million visitors a day, air.

And who cares that it’s user-generated content. It was generated by users in response to your promotion. And you rewarded them for it. That’s your logo at the end. What possible difference could it make who put the logo there? You judged it a winner and in doing so deemed it appropriate for your brand.

And I bet you’ll be running a mile from that decision when Monday morning rolls around.

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