Brand of the Free: Advertising and Branding in the Age of Social Media


To begin this week’s blog, allow me to tell you a little bit about myself.

By day, I am a functioning, civil, relatively ordinary member of society, besides my deft comedic timing and the fact that I look like Ellen Degeneres with a beard (and I’m just as good a dancer). Besides fits of berserk road rage, I’m essentially quite normal, and I pride myself on being fairly social.

But, when night falls, I find myself degenerating into what many now define as “social.” As the sun fades, as does my willpower to conquer my addiction to social networking. For some reason, I am compelled to go on Facebook and find out that Kelly’s son has “grown so much over the past year!” Who knew children grow?! Revelatory. I find myself suddenly an avid fan of SnapChat, rifling through story after story. Oh look, Joe is singing to a song while recording himself, how quaint! And, yes, I occasionally do go on Tinder, choosing to attempt to interact with virtual women instead of, I don’t know, real ones?

The bottom line is I, like literally billions of other people in the world, find themselves suffering from the affliction that is an addiction to social media. Whether it’s Facebook, SnapChat, Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter, etc., we’re all hooked. American teenagers spend about nine hours a day on social platforms, and about two thirds of the U.S. are active social media users. In fact, there are almost two billion social media users across the world. Not too bad, Zuckerberg.

And really, these enormous social media companies are only growing larger, thanks to the fact they are taking a veritable roll in the proverbial dough thanks to the one, the only, advertising. Facebook alone reached 25 billion dollars in ad revenue in 2016 from when they began in 2005. 25 billion dollars doesn’t even seem real; it’s like when the President tells Dr. Evil “That amount of money doesn’t even exist!” Advertisers, as they always have, noticed the trending (get it?) popularity of social media, and hopped on the bandwagon as fast as they could. At this point, social media is the place to be for advertisers. But with new advertising terrain comes new challenges.

Target Acquired-- Demographics Gone Wild


When social media first hit the scene, advertisers couldn’t believe their luck. Here you are, the internet at your fingertips, where you can actually track who is reading what content, when, and they’re reaction to that content as well. If you’re a business attempting to branch out via social media, you can actually monitor what’s doing well in your business and what isn’t via either the site’s analytics or insights page. For example, let’s say a company posts, I don’t know, a video on Facebook about a chicken in a KFC commercial, moving in slow motion to the tune of DMX, on Tuesday, then turn around and post a blog on the following Thursday. The following week, that company can go on Facebook and see that the blog reached 300 people, while the chicken post struggled to hit 100. Now, that company can realize that maybe DMX, slow motion KFC chickens may not be a big draw for their audience, and can cut those types of posts out of their social media game plan.

Seems like such insights are an incredible advantage, right? Well, as helpful as social media demographic-based knowledge can be, it can be just as fickle. Just ask WeChat and BMW. BMW, always looking for new ways to ramp up revenue, teamed up with WeChat, a messaging app in China that hundreds of millions of people use regularly, to get some new advertising exposure. But, looking to wield their demographic prowess, BMW decided to advertise their cars to the more wealthy users of the app only, and the rest of users received ads for less expensive items. Suffice it say, when the non-wealthy users found out about this, they were none too pleased. So it goes to show, sometimes these appeals to demographics can go a bit off the rails.

In some instances though, it can work swimmingly, in the case of Lowes. In an incredibly shrewd marketing move, Lowes actually advertised to specific people about specific products based on what parts of their house they had mentioned on social media. So if Louis posted on Instagram a picture of his new house with the caption “Can’t wait to move in! Kitchen’s a fixer upper though,” what do you know? Louis finds himself receiving advertisements for a new Whirlpool oven. Kind of Big Brother level stuff, but fascinating all the same, as advertisers can use interest, behavioral, or customized targeting to really hone in on facets of their markets.


Don’t You Take That Tone With Me-- Mastering Tone in Social Media Advertising

There are particular terms that get tossed around pretty frequently when it comes to social media and advertising, terms like viral, buzz, stickiness, you know what they are. At this point in America, and the world really, if you’re going viral, you’ve just transcended into the hall of the gods. Whether you’re singing “Chocolate Rain,” a cast member of “Too Many Cooks,” or lamenting that your brother Charlie bit you, going viral is the way you want to be going.

Advertisers, just like the lonely YouTuber sitting in his room singing to “Numa Numa,” yearn to go viral too. But they face the same challenge the “Numa Numa” boy did; striking a chord with an audience without seeming superficial. Especially given how often one may encounter these ads (more on that later), nobody wants to be constantly assailed by superficial and perfunctory advertising. On top of that, given the degree of freedom potential customers have when navigating through the seemingly endless sea of social networking, they have even more control than they typically would than if they were watching television or listening to the radio. When advertising on a social media platform, it’s more important than ever to remain personable and authentic in your business to customer, or even business to business, interactions.

She’s A Super Freq- Frequency of Advertising

One of the biggest challenges facing advertisers is a little term called self-control. You have virtually untapped potential to reach massive amounts of people with just a click of a button; suffice it to say, a click extravaganza may occur. When it comes to quantity vs. quality, sometimes a company can choose the latter, and their results suffer because of it.

There’s a scene in a little movie called “The Social Network” (how very appropriate!) where Napster inventor Sean Parker (is there anything Justin Timberlake can’t do?) is attempting to woo Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg into taking his time with developing Facebook. Parker uses the analogy that after a man goes fishing, does he frame a picture of himself with fourteen trout? To which someone responds no, he frames one with the 3,000 pounds marlin. Now while we know that a 3,000 pound marlin simply doesn’t exist (except maybe in the ocean surrounding Japan), the analogy works; your advertising will be much more effective if you post occasional, quality content, instead of a constant barrage of mediocre content.

Now there are times, of course, like in the case of the aforementioned KFC DMX chicken, that you may have some trial and error as to what is truly quality content in the eyes of your customers, and what isn’t. That’s when a serious dose of doubling down needs to… go down (although not this kind of double down). I don’t think miners of days past who had just struck gold don’t just take the one little chunk they immediately found and go “Well, I’m supposin’ I’ll be on muh way then.” (Is that how gold miners talked? You don’t know either.) No, they scoured the immediate area, and that’s what advertisers have learned to do also. Why do you think you hear the same songs played on the radio in a seemingly endless Moebius strip of musicality? Same concept. When something’s a hit, capitalize.


Having said that, it’s important for advertisers to do their research and not just get swept up in what’s “hot” at the moment. Ask Tony DiGiorno, the founder of DiGiorno Pizza (alright his first name may not be Tony but it’s a solid guess). Anyway, recently DiGiorno noticed that a hashtag “WhyIStayed” was growing more and more popular on various social media fronts, and decided to ride some coattails and retweeted with “You stayed for pizza!” In a truly nightmarish scenario, it turned out that “WhyIStayed” was actually a social media movement about domestic violence, and DiGiorno had a pretty fat “mia culpa” to offer. So it’s alright to ride the wave, just make sure you’re not about to ride it into a Great White’s open mouth.

So where does advertising on social media go from here? Well, it turns out companies are looking to ditch the middle-man and cut right to the chase; immediate purchases. Why have a customer go on social media, find an ad, see something they like, then have to actually go to the retailer or company and make the purchase when they can hit a simple “Buy Now” button? You may have seen similar buttons start to spring up here and there, and you’re guaranteed to see more as advertisers decide to totally eliminate the road you need to take to get to your destination. Because where we’re going, we don’t need roads.


Thanks again for reading folks! While this entire article was about advertising on social media, I am in no way opposed to forcible advertising an command you to go check out our website, other blogs, Facebook page, or to follow us on Instagram if you liked what you read! ‘Til next time, this is the U.S.S. Trove, signing off!