Advertising, in its most traditional sense, is a one-way medium designed to influence behavior through the thoughtful and creative use of word and images. Controlled words and images communicated in a linear fashion. We talk. You listen. And in this manner behavior is modified. The medium of advertising (print, outdoor, radio, television, internet banner ads) is one-way communications.
So, if the medium is the message, is “advertising” the antonym of “social media?”
Social media is, by definition, well – social. Its driving force is interactivity between multitudinous constituencies – the most important being peer-to-peer. And where does this leave advertising? What would Don Draper do?
Here’s what the late media visionary Marshall McLuhan had to say on the matter – and it’s a matter of communications first principles:
“The medium, or process, of our time – electric technology is reshaping and restructuring patterns of social interdependence and every aspect of our personal life. It is forcing us to reconsider and re-evaluate practically every thought, every action, and every institution formerly taken for granted. Everything is changing: you, your family, your education, your neighborhood, your job, your government, your relation to ‘the others.’ And they’re changing dramatically.”
Yes – that means you.
A good place to start is to consider social media within the broader (and more important) context of social marketing — an arena that’s the playing field of a variety of communications disciplines – including advertising. The anti-Barry Goldwater, finger-on-the-button “Daisy” ad was an early example of social marketing. The ad (shown, famously, only once) started a national conversation. And the interactivity part played out in voting booths across the nation. Harry and Louise are the direct descendants of Miss Daisy.
But, and with all due respect to the creative process of Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce, in 2011 social marketing is activated by social media. And you can’t “buy” social media.
Social media requires you to play rather than purchase. Remember – the medium is the message. Just how comfortable and capable are you operating in a world where the only constant is change? A brave new world (and a brave new job) where you must constantly update and refine, rethink and revisit, change and challenge your work? And not monthly or weekly or daily – but in real time all the time? To appropriately claim social media acumen, it’s a full-time proposition. And that doesn’t mean nine-to-five. Clients deserve no less and should (indeed must!) demand it. Don’t worry, they will. In fact – worry. A lot.
Social media is communications at the speed of life. As McLuhan wrote: “At electric speed, all forms are pushed to the limits of their potential.” That’s a wonderful challenge, to be pushed to the limits of our potential. If you are not ready to do so, it’s time to look for another job. (Replace “electric” with “digital” and it’s amazing how prescient McLuhan was. That’s genius.)
But wait, it gets more complicated.
Social media has precious few rules. (And don’t even get me started on healthcare social media. That’s another story for another time.) But the one Golden Rule of social media is transparency. 100% transparency. 100% of the time. You can’t airbrush social media.
Nobody said it was going to be easy. If it was easy, anybody could do it. Wait a minute – everybody is doing it. The audience has been given both the permission and the tools to communicate with each other. Advertising, qua Mad Men – those characters who you wish you were (come on, be honest, you do), is a thing of the past. Why? Because advertising has been (and here’s your big word for the day) dis-intermediated. The public doesn’t need advertising any more to learn about anything. Anything new. Anything important. Anything on sale. Anything at all.
So what are you going to do about it?
Part of the answer is to expand the definition of who you are and what you do. If you choose to remain a self-defined “Mad Man,” then you are already as outdated and quaint as black-and-white televisions, two martini lunches and manual typewriters. And just about as useful to your craft and clients.
As Don Draper once said: “I’m enjoying the story so far, but I have a feeling it’s not going to end well.”
Here’s the truth — The days of art director and copywriter, account executive and media buyer are over. The distinctions between advertising and public relations are evaporating. Welcome to the dawn of a new era. The time of the social marketer has arrived and social media is the weapon of choice.