Quick. Name a memorable social media campaign -- besides Old Spice Man.
Stumped? I'm not surprised. Because, as with so many other things in advertising, there aren't that many memorable social campaigns. But, getting back to Old Spice Man, that just-concluded phenomenon is an example of the fact that social advertising creative is getting better, a lot better, and that it has the ability to be far more memorable than much creative that has gone before. Why? Because the best of it engages not only you but your friends, especially when it mixes content deftly with the social graph.
That thought occurred to me this morning when I read on Mashable about another intriguing social marketing app, for Discovery Channel's upcoming series "The Colony" that debuts next week, and simulates -- yikes! -- a global pandemic. The app, put together by Campfire New York, simulates how your Facebook universe might respond if a deadly virus were spreading throughout the world. If you install it, it starts to attribute status updates like those below to your Facebook friends, even incorporating details like what's going on with the spread of the disease where they live in the real world and their profile pictures. (As they didn't actually say this stuff, I haven't included their names):
"Is anyone else following this 'voluntary quarantine' stuff the government is talking about? Doesn't seem bad at all here in New York. I need to go out for beer at some point."
"I'm right there with you..."
"There's no wiggle room in our budget, and my beloved is currently at home due to possible exposure at work. I might be exposed too, but someone's gotta bring home the bacon."
"Dude. STAY HOME. Don't be part of the problem. You might be putting other people at risk!!!"
In other words, an app like this brings the point of the show home in a way that no number of over-the-air promos can. What's encouraging about a marketing effort like this -- and about Old Spice Man -- is that they are ideas that only reach full flower when they are executed within social media. Are they viral, literally (in "The Colony"'s case) and figuratively? Yes. But that's not exactly the point.
Old Spice could have gone social simply by continuing to unleash more videos onto YouTube; the Super Bowl spot "The Guy Your Guy Could Smell Like" is up to 15 million views. Instead, last week the brand and Wieden + Kennedy went way, way outside the box by using a variety of social platforms to get the campaign out there. More important, the campaign's astonishing number of video responses (clocked at about 180) made the effort much more of a back-and-forth. (True, most of us were simply not worthy of a video response, but I suppose, in our celebrity-saturated culture, it's something to aspire to.)
Discovery could've have taken the road more traveled by building a generic, fictitious social site around "The Colony." Instead, it plays off of each user's social graph in a much more engaging way to promote the series.
Contrast these campaigns to old-style social efforts, whose main objective seemed to be getting pass-along viewers. More recent efforts make something like Never Hide Films' "Sunglass Catch" for Ray Bans -- dating all the way back to 2007 -- look almost quaint. Today, it's about entwining campaigns much more deeply into the social graph.
I should close by mentioning that I'm not disagreeing with myself here. In another forum, I wrote yesterday that Old Spice Man doesn't pose a threat to traditional media because a campaign/stunt like that requires special talents and resources that most of us don't have. It's not as though every company is going to be able to execute a campaign solely through social channels and ignore paid ones. (Besides, as Joe Marchese points out, Old Spice used traditional media to establish the character.)
However, overall, I'd say that social advertising creative is growing much more intuitive about how to use this medium wisely, and that's something that -- I hope -- is a talent that can be shared throughout the industry.