Kara Swisher

Recent Posts by Kara Swisher

Social Ads Not Cutting the Mustard?

Here is the single favorite quote I read from EconAds in New York yesterday, from NeoAtOgilvy COO Greg Smith.

“No one wants a relationship with their mustard.”


Well, exactly. (Unless, it is Col. Mustard, of course, who is endlessly fascinating!)

This odd but spot-on observation was about why big packaged-goods advertisers–who are the really big spenders of the ad business–might be less than interested in leveraging social-media advertising and its promise of deep engagement with consumers.

No one wants to interact over mustard or mayo or ketchup or most products that pay the rent up and down Madison Avenue.

That has not stopped all sorts of social-media companies, from the big ones like Facebook to smaller apps makers, from touting a new and seemingly miraculous kind of advertising attached to their various widgets and interactive products.

To be fair, I do get it on a macro level and also can see the possibilities of the medium, as the idea of truly engaging with consumers has been the holy grail of many marketers.

The problem is, to my mind, that most of the solutions I have seen so far are much more gimmicky and lightweight than innovative and deep.

Whether it be giving out virtual products as gifts or letting users throw them at each other or getting folks to participate in some poll or silly game, none of it feels new and a whole lot of it feels faddish and eventually tiresome.

What is required–because ad agencies and marketers don’t seem to be doing it or, more precisely, doing it well–is for these social-networking companies to come up with either a dead-effective ad solution (as Google (GOOG) has done with its essentially direct-marketing nuclear weapon) or one that leads to an actual purchase or, most of all, one that truly is groundbreaking.

Now, I am not smart enough to think these things up, but it is clear someone has to, as the impact of social ads is still minimal.

Consider the stats from an article (also see the graph below) in The Wall Street Journal today: “In 2007, U.S. marketers spent $600 million advertising on social media, a sliver of the $18 billion spent on interactive advertising that year, according to Forrester Research. The number is forecast to spike to $6.9 billion by 2012.”


This small market is simply not as impressive as the super-sized valuations many of these social-media companies enjoy.

Looking back at a post I did almost a year ago, it feels as if little has changed in a significant enough way.

As I wrote, mocking the notion raised by one widgetmaker that consumers wanted to become “brand ambassadors”:

It seems, though, that the old canard about getting audiences to carry water for brands and loving it has found new life, as social networks and the widgets that live off them search for business models…

But to insist that audiences like to do this, for example, since they seem to enjoy wearing and showing off brands in their clothing and consumer lives, is a story that only a marketer could spin to big-product companies in need of a little love.”

I was debating this very notion of how social-media ads become successful with one social-media entrepreneur by email late last night–yes, this is what passes for fun in my life–who noted correctly that his hugely popular apps “might have enough cultural footprint now to have some staying power, assuming I manage to add depth to it fast enough.”

Now, it seems, we’re on the right track.

Speaking of how to get consumers to have a relationship with their mustard, here is a video of the classic Grey Poupon commercial that could teach Web 2.0 a thing or two or three about marketing: