Our industry is quick to embrace trends. We have to be – in digital media things move fast, from the technology that’s available to us to the way consumers use it. There are those, though, who choose to watch from the nosebleed section, waiting to see if the early adopters will win or lose out, cataloguing their successes and mistakes.
This is the safe approach – and in many ways, it’s entirely justified. Many a brand has gone storming into a new ad placement or marketing channel unprepared and made some enemies among the very consumers they were trying to reach. Google “social media fail” and you’ll see what I mean. Being bold can have a downside. But take heart: there are plenty of ways to win at digital media without alienating potential customers in the process.
Brands are well-accustomed to using hashtags through social services like Twitter, Instagram, and Tumblr, but never before did the opportunity exist to leverage them on Facebook. Now that the social network supports clickable hashtags and has begun to incorporate them into its news feed, brands have at their disposal a new way to connect with consumers. As on Twitter, the hashtags allow users to filter content by subject and seek out related posts. For brands, this means the ability to “eavesdrop” on Facebook conversations relating to a specific hashtag, branded or otherwise. In other words, you’ll be able to establish a topic by assigning it a hashtag, and watch it trend.
While hashtag targeting isn’t yet available to Facebook advertisers, this could ultimately become another way through which to deploy your ads. It could also be criticized by consumers who are already creeped out by profile targeting. As a way to monitor social chatter, however, hashtags are relatively low-risk: if consumers are concerned about who might be following their conversation, they can easily switch their privacy settings from Public to Friends – or avoid using hashtags altogether.
Shortly after it was acquired by Yahoo, Tumblr ramped up its advertising with Sponsored Posts. In terms of presentation, the ads are well-designed: they adopt the look and feel of a standard Tumblr post, with only a small dollar sign to indicate that they are paid placements, and like other posts they’re integrated into the user’s dashboard. Still, they’ve already faced some opposition from users who resent the sudden uptick in unsolicited advertising.
Part of the problem is that Tumblr founder David Karp resisted ads for so long that users expected things to stay that way. Interviews with Karp still have him emphasizing that the real value of Tumblr to brands lies in “creative brand advertising.” According to Karp, people are spending 24 billion minutes every month looking at Tumblr blogs, and advertiser content is being rolled into promoted content that represents the best of those blogs, and of the network overall. “What advertising and media used to be,” he says, “was storytelling, something that used to get you to aspire to a lifestyle.”
Advertising on Tumblr can still be this – even if it isn’t technically advertising. A branded Tumblr page can provide loyal customers and fans with exclusive and social content. M&M’s is using its Tumblr to post images of its mascots and of the product being used in various ways. It even reposts pinned images and positive tweets and promotes its #betterwithmms hashtag, which it extends to other social sites. Because Tumblr pages don’t take a push approach to marketing, they aren’t likely to incite a negative response from those users who still value the community in its traditional, ad-free form.
Online video is easily one of the more popular forms of online advertising. ComScore recently reported that in March of this year American consumers watched more than 39 billion online videos, with video ad views topping 13 billion. That isn’t to say all online video ads are welcomed with open arms. One survey by Poll Position found that most Internet users consider 15 seconds to be the optimal length for an online video ad, and lose their patience with ads that extend much beyond that. Additionally, a U.K. study revealed autoplay video ads that launch as soon as the site page loads are considered to be the most annoying ads online – even more so than pop-up and pop-under banners.
One way to deliver online video content that’s palatable is to make ads shorter. Branded Vine videos are still new enough that consumers find them intriguing, and rumors that Facebook is preparing to launch a Vine-like video feature on Instagram could open up more opportunities still. Shorter video ads do make brand storytelling more of a challenge, but brands like Gap and General Electric are showing that it can be done. What’s more, making shorter video ads demonstrates a willingness to work harder to please one’s target audience, and shows consideration for their interests and needs.
Much of being a successful advertiser online is about sending a message without disrupting the experience consumers hold dear. Sometimes it’s the quietest voice that has the most to say.