Socially acceptable

By Stuart Fuller


“Traditional advertising is dead. Discuss the merits of this statement.”  I’m often asked to help out with my daughter’s Business Studies GCSE homework, with the difference between Public and Private Limited Companies, or an assessment of LIFO vs FIFO stock control methodologies, but this one was a real challenging question.  By traditional advertising do we mean direct mail, press and magazine adverts plus TV/Radio? Or are we also including marketing methods into the mix.

What is sure is that the digital revolution has significantly reduced the cost of getting advertising messages to consumers.  Whilst we may not realise it our digital footprint leaves almost luminescent tracks across the web that marketers can use to exploit us at our weakest hour.  Visit a website to browse for a product then move onto another and you will often see ads relating to the products and services you were originally viewing catch your eye.  There’s a whole debate about the rights and wrongs of this but that’s for another day.  The aspect that I feel supports the original statement truth is related to our changing attitude towards peer reviews.

If you walked down an average British High Street would you be persuaded to buy a product by a complete stranger shouting at the top of their voice about the merits of it? Probably not.  But visit a website that has a “five star” rating from users is often all we need to lend credibility to a purchase.  We will not trust the man we see in the street but we will trust the approval of a nameless, faceless, digital being.

A new generation is growing up that builds their beliefs, values and spending habits on peer reviews.  Fifteen years ago Which! had significant consumer power.  A bad review by them could spell disaster for a brand or a company.  Today, a bad review can be passed around the world and back again in a matter of seconds due to the pervasiveness of social media in our lives.  In his annual update, Socialnomics expert Erik Qualman stats that 90% of buyers now trust peer reviews.  Websites such as TripAdvisor have now become the most powerful and potent force in the travel and leisure industry.

However, can we always trust what others say?  How easy would it be for someone to manipulate social media to give an impression of trust and popularity?  If we are so influenced by peer reviews, how easy is it to fool people?  The answer, unfortunately, is incredibly easily.

A simple search on the term “buying social media likes” lists a number of organisations who offer a range of services to fit your social media tastes.  10,000 Facebook likes can be purchased for just $300, 50,000 Twitter followers for $125 and TripAdvisor reviews from $20.  In the space of a few minutes you can create a social media footprint comparable to a major brand for less than $1,000.  Whilst your intentions may be driven by vanity rather than any maleficent purpose, you will be creating a completely false persona for your product or service.

It should be said that the same search about buying social media likes also has a number of articles within the results as to why you shouldn’t adopt this practice, the main one being that you will ultimately be found out.  There are tools that can determine fake social media profiles for instance, and reputational damage can sometimes be irreparable.  A number of these services also require you to give them access to your accounts from which they can then send out their marketing messages, effectively spamming your genuine users and customers.

So what does this mean for traditional advertising?  It’s certainly not dead – in fact the common business model of a number of newspapers in cities such as London, New York and Paris has revived the traditional press advertising industry to some extent.  Metro and The Standard carry full page ads, ironically often from digital giants such as Facebook and Google.  Consumers trust brands they see in traditional advertising medium, and whilst word of mouth, or in the case of social media, word of the tweet or Instagram are vitally important they should be an additional channel to market rather than the soul one.  The world may have gone digital but that doesn’t spell the end for traditional advertising.