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Mad Mixers: Brands ads & the importance of mixing paid & earned media

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7 October 2010

Hit the Like Button - Watch the future

Hit the Like Button - Watch the future

Earlier this year during the World Cup Nike scored big.

Their ad “Write the Future” was all over television. But before it blanketed traditional media, Nike launched the video on Facebook. Reports Business Week:

The video started as an ad on the site. Then it was passed from friend to friend, often with comments and members recommending it. In the resulting discussions, the clip was played and commented on more than 9 million times by Facebook users—and helped Nike double its number of Facebook fans from 1.6 million to 3.1 million over a single weekend. Getting the ad onto Facebook cost a few million dollars, according to the companies. All that passing around was free. Davide Grasso, Nike’s chief marketing officer, says Facebook “is the equivalent for us to what TV was for marketers back in the 1960s. It’s an integral part of what we do now.”

The success of Google’s Adwords is legendary. But almost all of that success is a form of direct response. Brand advertising – the kind of advertising that commands the biggest share of the market by a country mile – has not taken off online at all. And it’s not as if companies like Google have not tried to make it work.

Sheryl Sandberg left Google for Facebook, for exactly this reason. She believed Facebook to be much better placed to address the $600 billion gorilla that is brand advertising.

Facebook has been making brand advertising look easy. Just recently Techcrunch reported that Yahoo! paid $1 per Like on the platform. Says Techcrunch:

Facebook Ads employ demographic characteristics (Age/ Sex / Location and Interests), which corporate brand managers and television ad buyers have been accustomed to purchasing for half a century. By contrast, Google AdWords target on the intent revealed by search queries, a practice that has seemed odd and new to Madison Avenue for the past decade and frankly has many of them worried for their jobs.

But before you train your budget on Facebook, a few things to note. Yes, Facebook has solved the internet advertising problem you’ve been moaning about: you can now reach almost everybody with one single ad spend.

But also consider the following. Facebook is a social space and it’s important that you don’t only understand it in terms of paid media. To maximize your spend you absolutely have to understand the importance of earned media.

If you are from an ad buying background, you might not even be familiar with the term. Earned media is a term originally coined in the world of public relations. It basically refers to those stories and mentions of a brand in the media that spread because they were considered news-worthy and were not paid for.

It is a term that has found new currency in social media. It’s become apparent that the former audience love sharing their opinions on almost everything – including products and brands – with their own small and sometimes not so small audiences.

In an excellent report Nielsen Research says explicitly:

“It’s critical that we understand advertising not just in terms of paid media, but also in terms of how earned media and social advocacy contribute to (paid for) campaigns.”

When buying Facebook ads there are in fact three types of ads you might be generating, whether you want to or not.

  • An engagement ad, which you always get.
  • But possibly also an ad with social context; and
  • Even a social mention (referred to as an organic impression), ie when it shows up in your news feed as from a friend.
  • Facebook ads - social ads, organic impressions

    Facebook ads - social ads, organic impressions

    But why are the last two types of impressions important? Consider the evidence.

    Nielsen compared the responses of users who had seen ads with social context against users who saw ads with no social context from the same campaign, they saw a measurable lift in… well, lift.

    Ads with a social context - recall, awareness, purchase intent

    Ads with a social context - recall, awareness, purchase intent

    In fact it had better awareness, recall and purchase intent.

    This was even more pronounced when a person saw both the normal impression and an organic impression.

    Organic impressions - recall, awareness, purchase intent

    Organic impressions - recall, awareness, purchase intent

    Says Nielsen:

    Those users exposed to both the “paid ad” and the organic impression remembered the ad at three times the rate of those just exposed to the paid homepage ad. We saw a similar effect for the other two metrics evaluated. Homepage ads increased awareness of the product or brand by 4% on average, but exposure to both homepage ads and organic ads increased awareness by a delta of 13% versus the control group. Exposure to organic impressions also impacted purchase intent as well, increasing the impact of the ad from 2% to 8%.

    A fourfold increase in purchase intent. Very impressive indeed. But I hear you ask, what percentage of impressions have a social context, and what percentage would be organic? And, how do you plan for that?

    The first answer is that it’s often small.

    The second answer is that brands with large groups of Fans or Likes on Facebook has appreciably better chances – in a quite predictable way – of either. Have a look below.

    Facebook Likes - Fan bases are key

    Facebook Likes - Fan bases are key

    And while it’s hard to scale organic impressions, ads with social advocacy can show the kind of reach associated with normal impressions.

    A key take-away here is that the brand ads need to take a leaf from the earned media book. It needs to be very creative to be compelling. In old PR parlance: it has to have an angle, a story that will carry it. Nielsen agrees:

    To maximize the reach of earned media, advertisers must start with interesting and engaging paid homepage impressions. Because the organic impressions are generated through interactions with the ad unit (which are then posted as stories in friends’ feeds), there is a strong relationship between the engagement rate of an ad campaign and the number of organic impressions.

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