Why is Wheat Thins really tweeting? This ad is not about the taste or nutritional benefits of the product, the core position of the brand, or even the typical emotional linkage that aims to connect consumer and product. It is about the medium employed to advertise it. (Put aside for the moment that it was apparently disingenuous to boot.) Basically, they are saying: “Although we are a huge national brand, we know how to relate to you on an individual level too because we’re on Twitter!” Trying to “get down to consumers’ levels” is nothing new in advertising and this time it isn’t any different simply because the Wheat Thins folks want to use social media.
Another example of a big B brand trying to stuff itself into the small c channel of “social media” is the latest campaign from Old Spice. Interactive. Buzzworthy. Award winning. But just because a smattering of individuals was given the opportunity to interact with “The Most Interesting Man in the World” doesn’t mean that it wasn’t attempting a very similar thing as Wheat Thins: use social media interactions with real people as content for mass distribution. These folks were really just hosts for a commercial message. Sort of counter to the idea of genuinely connecting with people.
To me the significance, if not the whole point, of social media like Twitter and Facebook is that it is not broadcast to an inadequately defined swath of the population. It is you to me to him in any order, frequency or channel you like. The value of networks has nothing to do with how many people you talk to simultaneously. Being able to tweet with the CEO of Zappos in real time was a very cool – and at one point, novel – concept, but unfortunately what is today a genuine act by one organization, will tomorrow seem like a forced functional tactic imitated by many more.
The bottom line is, you build value for a brand by doing something useful, creating something meaningful, or connecting me (or someone in my network) to something relevant. Which means that the shear fact that a brand is on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube doesn’t really matter to me unless I am there too – advertising that fact via another medium makes you even less cool.
This all brings to mind my interaction the other day with a client whose business operates under a direct selling model: peer to peer. As the Wheat Thins commercial made me realize, direct selling just might be THE model that truly capitalizes on the inherent value of networks.