It’s no secret that marketers have been (very) annoyed by Facebook’s repeated moves to cut the organic reach of their branded content — after all, what was the point of assiduously building up your fan following over years and years if you can’t even reach them any more? Facebook has its justifications, of course, chief among them preserving the user experience and making more money from paid advertising, though not necessarily in that order.
But there’s another awkward fact that has received less attention in this debate, which could nevertheless render the whole thing moot: consumers have already learned to ignore branded content.
That’s according to new research from Havas Media and Crowd Emotion, which measured consumer responses (or lack thereof) to branded content using technology that can pick up emotional responses based on subjects’ facial expressions. The results were not encouraging: a mere 20% of branded content posts appearing on Facebook generated any emotional response at all, meaning the large majority were completely ignored.
The study authors termed this branded content “blindness,” and it sounds exactly like the same phenomenon which has developed around more traditional forms of advertising, as consumers learned to “tune out” TV and radio ads, as well as earlier forms of online advertising, like “banner blindness.”
Even worse, the paid ads on Facebook received even less of an emotional response from subjects in the Havas-Crowd Emotion study — to be precise, none at all.
So what should marketers do to break through the branded content blindness barrier? According to Havas Media futures head Amy Kean, the solution is just better, or more “intense,” content, including videos that are “shocking,” “offensive,” or “amusing”: “What new networks such as Vine and Snapchat have taught us is that intensity is popular, especially amongst Millennials, so by applying that thinking to the rest of our creative, there’s more chance of grabbing the target audience with their new, 6-second long attention spans.”
While this may work in the short term for brands that do it well, I am skeptical that simply upping the intens-o-meter is a durable strategy in the long run. For one thing it would probably trigger an online creative content arms race, with more and more marketers producing ever more outlandish or outrageous video to cut through the clutter, resulting in consumers becoming inured to “intense” video content altogether.
Unfortunately that seems to describe the lifecycle of any new advertising format nowadays, as marketers take a promising medium and then run it into the ground by churning out mediocre, predictable creative, raising consumers’ expectations and losing their trust and interest when they fail to deliver.