Naomi Klein’s NO LOGO chronicled a global backlash against a number of “super brands” that used advertising and branding in questionable ways to maximise their profits. The book helped produce a new class of conscientious consumers by highlighting some of the features of an overly branded and globalised world: No Space, No Choice and No Jobs.
NO LOGO was the warning on the label of the bad mood rising against corporate brands that abused their role and influence in society. And while the world has changed since the book was first published, the reality that some brands choose to put profits in front of ethics should not be forgotten in today’s overly social world.
In the eleven years since NO LOGO was first published, we’ve seen the internet threaten to make traditional media and entire industries obsolete. We’ve seen the world plunge into a global financial crisis (arguably caused by the unchecked greed of Wall Street bankers and large global financial institutions) and we’ve seen the rise of social media.
Business is down. Jobs are scarce. Traditional media are slowly dying. And for marketers and advertisers, Social Media seems to be the perfect next big thing to hang their hopes on.
And while what follows might seem like a rant, I’d like to take a moment and make a clear distinction between social media and social marketing. The first is a revolutionary tool that can used to communicate and connect. The latter uses social media to purely market and advertise.
Social media has given us access to a variety of digital tools that can be used to forge deeper connections with the people we care about, help spread ideas around the world and start dictator-toppling revolutions. But for advertisers and marketers, social media presents wonderful and exciting ways to get you to tell your friends about various products.
And why wouldn’t you? social marketing isn’t like the intrusive, traditional forms of advertising that have continuously interrupted our daily lives since the 1950’s is it? Well yes and no.
In theory, when you ‘like’ a brand on Facebook or decide to follow them on Twitter, you basically give that brand permission to market to you, thereby putting Social Marketing in the catergory of “permission marketing”. But even if you manage to stay clear of all branded content on your favourite social networking sites, you might still fall victim to overzealous people in your social network who would gladly hand over all of your personal details to data collecting marketers because they want to stand a chance of winning a free iPad or some other prize or unforgettable experience.
What’s the harm right? These brands just want to get to know you better, engage you, interact with you and “start a conversation”. But unlike sixteen-year-old girls who just want to chat on the phone, most brands don’t want to just start a conversation, they want to control it. It’s not uncommon for someone to post something unfavourable on a company’s Facebook Page and get unceremoniously deleted from the conversation.
Now many social marketing advocates will be quick to point out this is just one of the many examples a brand “getting it wrong”. But here’s the thing: most brands will get it wrong. Sometime it’ll be because they lack marketing savvy. Other times it’ll be because of this inescapable truth: some (but not all) brands are inherently unfriendly.
This is because the purpose of a brand is to make money. It’s what allows a company to sell an inexpensive pair of denim jeans for much more than its worth. A brand will only become “social” if it means that it will generate more profits. But just don’t confuse the way a brand is social with the way your actual friends and family are social. A brand might want to hangout and chat and maybe even listen to your problems. But more than anything else it wants to get paid, making it more akin to an Oxford Street streetwalker than an actual friend.
Social media is truly revolutionary and many believe that its full potential has yet to be seen. But can’t we find better uses for it than building databases for large corporates or selling washing powder? Social marketing can produce some authentic, highly engaging and interactive content, which could probably take over traditional advertising any day. But if you’re a brand who is going to inevitably go down the social Marketing route, do your customers a favour and do it right, both in execution and spirit.
Ultimately consumers will learn that they can choose their brands just like they can choose their friends. So here is just a friendly warning: play nice and watch how you market yourself. Or the next time you go looking to make friends, you might just be ignored.