Social ads create the illusion of organic brand discovery

Posted on by Guy Cookson

It can sometimes feel like big brands with large budgets always get their way.

It is undoubtedly true that a splashy launch supported by prime time TV commercials, glossy magazine ads, and giant billboards all help raise awareness that a product exists.

Add celebrity endorsements, lots of online activity, and a PR agency with the right London postcode to the mix and success is surely guaranteed.

But the litany of big brand failures over the years belies the fact that people are not sheep.

Consumers do not obediently consume, but instead select or reject. Or more likely ignore entirely.

Coca-Cola spent untold millions launching a drink they called New Coke in the 1980s before admitting defeat after just a few weeks.

And more recently the mighty Google launched a wearable technology called Google Glass that failed spectacularly as a consumer product.

It seems that almost every successful brand has also had its fair share of failures, including Microsoft’s Zune, Nintendo’s Virtual Boy, Sony’s Betamax, and Apple’s Newton.

All of these products were launched with great fanfare and promoted at tremendous expense.

But research suggests people increasingly prefer to discover new products for themselves – and are more likely to trust messages found through recommendations, searches, review sites, and social media – rather than through traditional marketing channels.

This helps to explain why ads on Facebook and Instagram can be so effective.

Placed within your social feed, surrounded by updates from friends, and often carrying an implied endorsement from people you know (because they may follow the brand) these ads feel more personal and serendipitous than their mass media equivalents.

They are more likely to make us feel like we are masters of our own destiny, able to cultivate a lifestyle of our own choosing, rather than be the equivalent of Pavlov’s dogs, responding predictably to our corporate overlords.

This is an illusion of course – Facebook arguably gives brands more power to influence us than ever before, and after Brexit and Trump our trust in these platforms is being adjusted accordingly.

The interesting question now is what comes next – which platforms will enable brands to best balance relevance with reputation, and trust with the truth.

Advertising on Instagram

This article first appeared as part of a weekly column in the Lancashire Post, Blackpool Gazette and Lancaster Guardian.

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