When Facebook was recently revealed to have been inflating one of its key metrics for video viewership, brands and marketers were understandably aghast. With Facebook telling Publicis Media that their error had overestimated average time spent watching videos by between 60% and 80%, suddenly tens of billions of dollars worth of advertising investment were in question. Has the trend to go all-in on video advertising been based on an invalid, broken top-line metric?
Worse yet, Facebook’s own VP of measurement science, Brad Smallwood, admitted on stage at Advertising Week in New York that the industry’s metrics were inflated overall, and said it made data a place where other digital platforms are compelled to fudge the numbers. "One of the challenges that we have is that there's always this temptation. It's a prisoner’s dilemma, basically. If everybody else is measuring one way and pumping up the numbers and we don't, and they put those numbers side by side, it's a difficult problem."
That’s an understatement. But I still haven’t seen the much scarier reality reflected in the coverage of this issue: What if marketers aren’t measuring the right things in the first place, and haven’t been for a very long time? What if the Facebook error is nothing compared to the bigger picture of what marketers are missing? What if the rush to go viral online is killing brands more quickly and surely than their existing metrics can reveal?
Video views don’t mean much if consumers aren’t persuaded by your advertising. They could watch your clip 10 times and share it with all their Facebook friends, but it’s not changing how they think of your brand, and not motivating them to purchase. You haven’t won anything.
When branded digital and social media programs are done right, they can absolutely build affinity with your target consumer segments. They can imbue a feeling of “This is a brand for people like me.” A brilliant and timely tweet or a Facebook promotion that engages millions of consumers with your brand can break through and connect in ways not possible with traditional advertising messages. Social media campaigns can also have a strong amplifying effect on the dollars spent in traditional media, and help brands rise from obscurity to household-name status.
But what’s really happening in most cases is not so positive. Brands are trying too hard to be current, straining to be entertaining – and neglecting the imperative to build brand equity. Being charming and shareable doesn’t mean you’re building your brand story in a way that will generate brand love, purchasing, and loyalty. Brands that rush to captivate, and to be part of the conversation of the day, are losing the distinctive character that made them successful in the first place.
We all know someone who thinks he’s hilarious and is always struggling to be the center of attention. Do you like spending time with them, or do you find them kind of draining and obnoxious?
A few years ago, Burger King got lots of attention for offering a free Whopper to consumers who de-friended 10 Facebook friends. The negative backlash led to Facebook shutting down the campaign. But what is it about Burger King or the Whopper that fits in with people shutting others out of their personal conversations? Nothing. It was simply a case of a brand trying to get attention and testing the old axiom that no publicity is bad publicity. Certainly, two million views of the campaign video wouldn’t have been the golden result the CMO was aiming for.
Forward-looking advertisers love the conversational opportunities inherent in Facebook, Snapchat, and other social media. But the obsession with attention-grabbing and the real-time, reactive nature of many of these efforts are proving to be their downfall. As brands become more nimble, reactive, and clever, the identity of the brand itself is often lost in the conversation. Brands are better off standing for something clear and distinctive, and communicating that clearly and strategically.
Counting views is beside the point. Only by focusing on how brand exposures build the brand can their true value be assessed. What is called for are metrics that can quantify the overall impact of the brand’s messages on the brand and assess the extent to which each platform contributes to this overarching goal. Without that rigorous analytical focus, expect to lose more consumers — and maybe even your brand itself.