The FTC has created “Admongo.gov” in an effort to teach preteens about advertising. The program is a game that walks kids through the mall, home, and stores to show them how advertising is all around them and what advertisers are trying to say. This is nothing new, aside from being a way to reach today’s teens about the issue. I remember assignments in middle and high school that taught us about testimonials and the bandwagon technique, etc., and I wish we had a computer game to teach us, as it sounds like a much more fun way to learn than paging through a magazine.
In some ways, I can see why the FTC thought this new game was necessary. In recent years, advertising has taken a step further to blur the line between ad space and editorial. Where the issue used to be magazine ads blurring with magazine copy, with the clear, “THIS IS AN ADVERTISEMENT” now across ads, major guerilla marketing campaigns and product placements have taken advertising to a whole new level. Consider the “Biggest Loser,” which seems to have taken a queue from the movie “The Truman Show,” promoting product and passing it off as just another part of the show. If you watch, you know what I’m talking about. It’s the moment when Bob or Jillian take a contestant aside, show them this great product that will make their healthy lifestyle even healthier, i.e. “see these great ziplock bags, for storing and keeping your healthy meals fresh?” or “Check out this Walgreens, a convenient place where you can get healthy things you need anywhere in the U.S.” The contestant inevitably responds with, “Oh really? Yeah, yeah, I like it.” For me, it’s always the moment I gag and fast forward my DVR. I would venture to guess most adults are in the same boat as me. But if 8-12 year olds were watching the show, perhaps they may not know that Walgreens paid a boatload for the contestants to go get their vitamins there? So, good for the FTC. Kids need a game like this.
All of this is part of the reason I love social media as an advertising medium. It for the most part isn’t as “salesy” as traditional advertising can be. One of the fears the FTC had was that kids were being sold the sizzle and not the steak. In a Today Show clip, a rep from the FTC dissected an Apple Jacks commercial by saying it didn’t discuss the nutritional benefits of Apple Jacks and instead sold the idea that the Apple Jacks would make you happy. (My first thought—do Apple Jacks have nutritional benefits? My second—good thing you, FTC guy, are not an Advertising creative because your ads would be boring and your clients would tell you to take a flying leap.) Anyhow, back to social media.
Social media doesn’t require any selling at all. The best and most successful social media is about building relationships with the consumers so they will do the selling for you. Consider a Nielson/Facebook report we covered a few weeks ago. Social media product mentions are most successful when your fans are doing the selling. The report showed that people were 20% more likely to remember an unpaid mention in a Facebook newsfeed that someone was a fan of a product than a paid ad without any social mention.
So the most powerful “advertising” in social media isn’t paid ad space at all. It’s the peer to peer product mentions that happen on social network sites. Forrester recently found a way to measure how powerful social networks are for products. From their report, in 2009, consumers created 256 billion influence impressions on one another on social networks, and when blogs and review sites are in the picture, the number rises to a staggering 1.64 billion. Another interesting finding was that 84% of the people in social media fall into a “social influencer” category—friends, family and peers, not technically savvy, and most likely to pass along information if it’s easy for them to. If you can build relationships with your consumers and put the information in their hands in the process, they could become social influencers for your good. And those impressions can’t be argued with by the FTC.
So the best thing you can do on your social media sites is meet the people who like your product, and do what you can to cultivate those relationships. Help them out with more knowledge about your subject area. Offer them free samples. Keep them updated on the latest news. And most importantly, don’t simply talk at them. Ask them for their input, opinions, and experiences with your product. Your customers will feel taken care of, and they will appreciate the give and take. They will become loyal, and hopefully they will pass their good experiences with you along to their friends. No cheesy Bob and Jillian celebrity testimonials required. And as long as you are honest and authentic in how you talk about your product, no problems with the FTC.