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The Internet Must Really Be All Grown Up: Digital Parochialism, Social Media and Old School Advertising

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(Sitegeist is a regularly update blog written by David Hitt and the staff of Splat Productions.)

I got a post feed through the Philadelphia Interactive Marketing Association yesterday for a column written by online media expert & Philly Ex-Pat, Greg Satell. Greg was actually commenting on another post, written by Eric Qualmann on his Socialnomics blog.

In the Socialnomics piece, Qualmann glibly questions the decision of The Boeing Company to embed a recurring ad for its aircraft in each one of several recent podcasts of Meet The Press. Besides running the same ad in multiple podcasts (which he finds tiresome), Qualmann ponders:

Is a television or iTunes media buy really the best way to target the airplane buyer? As my wife shouts every time the commercial plays – ‘Honey can we buy a Boeing Today?’ There are only a handful of airplane buyers, why would you spend $100,000 plus on producing a commercial and then 10x that on the media buy in the hopes of reaching one of 50 buyers? This commercial screams of someone in marketing at Boeing wanting a fancy commercial, and why not, it’s fun and easy. After all, what’s easier than producing one commercial over the course of a year and then having your agency buy media spots? Unfortunately, this is called marketing to yourself my friend.

Hmmm… So Qualmann thinks Boeing was making this ad to reach out and grab the one potential customer that might be watching a “Meet the Press” podcast? I’m not so sure about that. His suggestion underscores some reservations I have about new age digeratis who promote the idea that social media and the internet “change all the rules of Old School Marketing.”

Boeing, undoubtedly, didn’t produce this ad nor buy spot time for it on national television in an effort to reach their potential single customer. (Although, I’m sure they would welcome this unintended occurrence and, frankly, if you look at how much revenue one sale would generate — I mean, people usually buy airplanes in quantity — it might still make sense financially.) Rather they fell back on an “Old School” principle of advertising which is still relevant, even in the Facebook and Twitter-driven world we live in. Namely, by running the ad, they were building or shoring up existing brand awareness. It was a pure “brand awareness” sort of ad of the sort that Madison Avenue has been pumping out for decades.

Here are some reasons why these ads still make sense:

  1. Not everyone knows about Boeing. At first blush, this might seem preposterous. Most educated adults surely know the Boeing brand well. However, all of us start out in this world uneducated. Brand ads often serve as our first introductions to brands which later become part of our collective cultural DNA. True, “Meet The Press” might not be where the brand-ignorant hang out, but it still makes sense to advertise there within the context of the next two bullet points.
  2. Boeing is a publicly traded company. Brand awareness is essential for publicly traded companies because, in a sense, every potential investor represents a new customer of sorts. Boeing may derive much of its capitol from its revenues but working capitol is also acquired by selling more stock. Putting the brand in front of well-monied general investors and making them feel warm and fuzzy about that brand is a smart, necessary component of an overall brand strategy.
  3. Postitioning your brand in a positive light protects it when things go wrong. Think a little about Boeing’s core business and you’ll understand this last point. Boeing knows that, at any given moment, one of its big passenger jets might fall out of the sky, with inevitably disastrous consequences. It is a fundamental and unpleasant reality of the business they’re in. Managing the PR cataclysm that results from such rare circumstances is easier if the public is inclined favorably towards your brand, at the moment calamity strikes. By keeping positive messages in front of the public’s eye about all the great things Boeing does, they insulate themselves, somewhat, from the negative feelings that result in such circumstances. (I call this situation “prophylactic advertising.”)

One last thought about Qualmann’s post which again illustrates some of the limitations of Social Networking. In his closing incitement to “get on Social Media channels,” Qualmann says, “The biggest advice I can give Boeing is to start having conversations with your buyers, engineers and passengers both online and offline, rather than hoping to reach one of the few buyers with a fancy :30 second commercial.”

Now, I’m not in the airplane business but, I’m guessing that not a single purchasing deal to buy a new fleet of airplanes has ever been transacted over Facebook or Twitter. Here, once again, is a situation where “Old School” marketing practices are surely alive and well. Negotiations for such purchases most certainly still take place over many steak dinners and, perhaps, a week’s worth of working vacation at an exclusive Aspen resort. If I’m selling a few hundred million dollars worth of product, surely I’m aware that my buyers want to be feted and cajoled. In person. And that’s a reality that is unlikely to be changed by the next nifty Social Networking App.

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