A monthly reach of 2.2b users doesn’t just sound impressive, it looks it – as this chart of Facebook’s world domination makes evident.
What’s more, combined with this suggestion of gargantuan reach is a promise of granular targeting – a manifestation of the marketing holy grail.
But the journey to here has been a frustrated one. Different metrics are employed by different platforms making side by side comparisons contentious and potentially misleading. So, for example, can the following comparison be truly said to be like for like?
The muddle that is platform metrics
A cynic might suggest that the social media giants’ smarts in targeting have actually been honed more particularly upon one key customer segment than all others. For example Facebook now offers you, the marketer, your choice of audience, advertising type … even business objective to be measured upon – and there’s 11 to choose from! It’s the B2B equivalent of a range of mobile phone plans, and working marketers are the target demographic.
Meanwhile though, less jaded souls can argue (not unreasonably) that while the soup of metrics and algorithmic tweaks ever evolves, it’s all happening in the pursuit of delivering measurable, true business outcomes for marketers. But there, that optimism can only run so far. Persistent whiffs of metrics-related scandals still bubble from the social waters, suggesting improvement is at best slow since calls of ‘number wanging’ last year . 2018 has seen Adidas suspend Facebook advertising as it assesses its efficacy  – which may please those who questioned Adidas’s wisdom in taking a social-only route some 18 months back .
Add in externals like GDPR, the long overdue transparency initiatives of June 2018, and regular platform updates – and ready YoY comparisons of performance measures are compromised too.
One thing, however, is clear: ongoing chases to ‘game the system’ will offer diminishing returns. The pursuit of ‘like-mining’ type metrics on Facebook is reminiscent of early SEO ‘hacks’  that the Google algorithm now learns to ignore – with a resultant trend toward ‘quality content’ .
And this is a good thing. Because once we stop gaming the system, we start training the system.
Putting ‘quality’ into ‘quality content’
Like Google, other platforms wanting to lift ‘quality content’ will develop to allow the paths to that content to emerge. And here, a new behavioural science piece by Orlando Wood is instructive.
In examining the elements that most contribute to advertising effectiveness, Wood notes a marked boost to memorability through the use of what he terms fluent devices. These speak to ‘system one pattern-recognition … [and trigger an] emotional response’, making them so ready to recall you don’t realise you’re doing it. They also make for easy recognition and reinforcement, creating rapid opt-in for communications.
But how do we create them? Well, Wood proceeds to note that while one may think the development of ‘fluent devices’ is a uniquely 21st century requirement, ad-avoidance has actually been an age-old, cross-platform behaviour . And so, we’ve already negotiated many rules for maximising impact without unnecessarily intruding upon content – in other media. Hence, in outdoor comms we don’t pollute; on television we restrict ourselves to commercial breaks (more or less); in direct marketing we respect the unsubscribe. And then, we maximise creative impact within these constraints by building ‘fluent devices’ that advertisers use to maximise their cut-through and memorability.
The communication transaction value of ‘fluent devices’ seems readily apparent. Appearing in a 6-second YouTube bumper is a permissible interruption for the subsequent provision of a free video. We’re already used to ads in live sports – so okay, sure, you can appear if the sport is live-streaming on Facebook.
Creative opportunities would seem to abound, yet so far (as least as far as Wood asserts) ‘a golden age for ad technology has not translated into a golden age for advertising’.
Perhaps this is because another facet in the usefulness of ‘fluent devices’ is their cultural scale. They allow for communication that does not simply happen one-to-one but is rather experienced more widely. For example, Nike’s choice to return to its own fluent device – the slogan ‘Just Do It’ – could only ever have been a bold announcement, not an aside!
The sweet spot for targeting may never be one-to-one
If cultural scale and impact are important, the focal point for targeting may be less granular than imagined. Not because of resource scarcity, but because one reaches exponentially diminishing returns as one chases precision. (After all, what kinds of products do you buy in the dark by yourself? And does your brand really want to be there!?) Out in the sunnier world, people want to be part of things – and in this sense advertising can serve a purpose. That purpose may be as big as urging customers to beat the world, like Nike – or as banal (or lovely) as making a person feel like they belong while you watch over breakfast, like Froot Loops’ Toucan Sam.
So, in an environment cluttered with platform metrics but with clear content commonalities, the right question is not ‘which platform?’, but ‘what content?’
Why Mammal chooses to ‘think in video’
While platforms jockey for position across demographics, targeting, advertising forms and metrics, research continues to point towards further expansion of video, whatever the environment it appears in.
With an ability to not just create or use a fluent device, but to integrate it into visual narratives told over time, no other medium is better placed to deliver a consistent brand experience along the customer journey . Whether Facebook Watch becomes a brand advertising nirvana or Facebook grows instead to be, as at least one commentator suggests, better for ‘lower [marketing] funnel activities’  remains to be seen. But either way, more time spent on it will be done with video.
Various platforms’ technologies make it more possible than ever to plan integrated customer journeys, with a singular clarity of objective for each piece. But by ‘thinking in video’ across that journey, such as using fluent devices to maximise memorability, brands can create truly effective, platform-neutral campaigns.
Not just so that individual customers can tread the path to your door, but so that many can.
1. ‘What we know about marketing on Facebook’, WARC Best Practice, September 2018.
2. Gilbert, B. ‘YouTube now has over 1.8 billion users every month …’, Business Insider, 5 May 2018 https://www.businessinsider.com/youtube-user-statistics-2018-5
3. Mills, D. ‘Number wanging the Facebook way’, Mediatel Newsline, 27 Mar 2017 https://mediatel.co.uk/newsline/2017/03/27/number-wanging-the-facebook-way-grade-a-toadying-at-ad-week/
4. Joseph, S. ‘Sources say Adidas has paused its video ads on Facebook …’ Digiday, 8 May 2018 https://digiday.com/marketing/sources-say-adidas-paused-ads-facebook-reviews-efficacy/
5. ‘Mark Ritson Slams Adidas’ Decision to Abandon TV Advertising’ B&T Magazine, 23 March 2017 http://www.bandt.com.au/marketing/mark-ritson-slams-adidas-decision-abandon-tv-advertising
6. Gupta, K. ‘Making sense of a new Facebook’. LinkedIn (pulse), 25 January 2018 https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/making-sense-new-facebook-kunal-gupta/
7. Stern, T. ‘The Evolution of SEO Trends Over 25 Years’ Search Engine Land, 24 June 2015 https://searchengineland.com/evolution-seo-trends-25-years-223424
8. Wood, O. ‘How to craft memorability in multi-platform advertising’, Admap, September 2018
9. ‘Cisco Visual Networking Index: Forecast and Methodology’, 2016–2021 https://www.cisco.com/c/en/us/solutions/collateral/service-provider/visual-networking-index-vni/complete-white-paper-c11-481360.html
10. ‘What we know about cross-channel and multichannel marketing’, WARC Best Practice, July 2018.