02 June 2010

Marketers Advised: Use Social Media but Get Back to Basics

Miami Herald

Heads of independent marketing agencies from around the globe gathered in South Beach to tackle industry issues, like making sense of marketing with social media.

Consumers don't want to have a friendship with their toothpaste.

That was the message this week for marketers from Jonathan Salem Baskin of Advertising Age, who said the social media push by companies is getting away from the basics of advertising: making money for the client.

``As an industry, we've allowed this nonsense to get out of hand,'' Baskin, a marketing consultant and columnist for Advertising Age, told about 70 attendees at the global Worldwide Partners advertising conference in Miami Beach. ``Ultimately, we're about selling stuff, and I think that's what we have to get back to.''

The annual conference -- held in a different location each year -- brings together owners of 91 independent advertising agencies from Taiwan to Texas to explore trends and best practices. It concludes Thursday.

Baskin's comments about social media fly in the face of the current marketing obsession: how building fans on Facebook is good for brands. Baskin didn't dismiss social media and interactive websites but stressed that too often companies are investing significant resources on social media without seeing sales.

One of his examples: a Ford Fiesta campaign that gave free cars to consumers in their 20s in exchange for posting their videos about driving the Fiesta on YouTube.

``How the hell does this sell cars? Well it doesn't,'' Baskin said. ``It's to get Ford to win some awards to keep the social media team employed.''

Keeping up with technology while still making money was a topic that hit home for several attendees.

One was Manny Machado, chief executive of Miami marketing agency MGSCOMM. His firm urges clients to participate in social media, but not to dismiss broadcast and print advertising, he said. Spending on those traditional mediums has returned to the levels of two years ago.

``All of a sudden, social media was the very essence of our existence,'' Machado said. ``But we said, `Hey, let's not forget what has been feeding us so far and make sure we're still addressing everyone that wants to listen to the radio or read the paper.' ''

Baskin's remarks on social media reflected a larger point echoed by other attendees: the need to be more truthful with consumers.

Case in point was BP's green sun logo and slogan, ``Beyond petroleum,'' designed to marry the oil company with an eco-friendly image -- one that now seems out of place given the company's oil spill crisis in the Gulf of Mexico.

``This brilliant branding hurts all of us,'' Baskin said. ``Because how do we show that we're better than that?''

Ian McAteer, group chairman of The Union Advertising Agency in Scotland, worked with BP in the 1980s to promote its solar power use in Africa. Now, he told the crowd, he feels guilty for making a big deal about BP's few green activities.

``We made ads about that and what a great company BP was, and what we're seeing today is possibly the end of BP.''

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