Why Brand Strategy Matters Even More Online
To ensure a seamless image, smart brands take responsibility for both the content of their ads, as well as the environment in which their ads appear.
Vigilance is especially necessary online, where intelligent software and e-marketing technologies allow brands to target the user, not the environment. The old adage of ‘fish where the big fish are’ has never been more true. With varying degrees of success.
A friend of mine recently joked on Facebook: ‘If the ads that Facebook so cleverly targets at me are correct, I need to: a. Lose 9kg. b. Buy a motorbike and c. Attend the classic rock concert at Willowbridge Barnyard Theatre. Now that’s artificial unintelligence if ever I saw it.’
She’s a fit, slim, married, mother of two in her 40s, who lives in the suburbs and drives a family-friendly 5-seater VW.
But getting it wrong can have more sinister results. What happens when a brand finds itself in an online environment that potentially undermines its image?
The Everyday Sexism Project, created to highlight daily instances of sexism, has been using Twitter to reach out to brands with ads appearing on Facebook pages that, often quite graphically, appear to endorse or support rape and domestic violence.
When this situation, supported with a screen grab of a page featuring an ad for Mini, was bought to MiniUKs attention, they responded by insisting they have no control over where Facebook places their advertising, and posted ‘How Facebook targeted ads work’ on their own page.
True, that is how online advertising placement works: technology targets the audience. Wherever they may be.
This is fine when placing ads with traditional, edited online publishers, where content is moderated and is unlikely to offend. But in environments where the content is user-generated, no such guarantees exist.
And even if their audience is there – can Mini afford to be associated with content that appears to support violence against women? Particularly as the car brand with the highest percentage of retail sales to women (2011).
Facebook has a policy that they can’t police every page that might appear offensive to some people. “Groups or pages that express an opinion on a state, institution, or set of beliefs – even if that opinion is outrageous or offensive to some – do not by themselves violate our policies”.
So who is responsible for ensuring this doesn’t happen? Should Facebook change their policy and put respect for the (paying) advertisers over the content freedoms of their (non-paying) users? Their billion users are their currency, they are why the advertisers are there in the first place. It’s fair to assume that perceived censorship of this body of networked users would not be tolerated – particularly in the online world where freedom of expression is celebrated and any type of ‘governance’ is treated with conspiratorial suspicion.
And if we wish to safeguard these freedoms, perhaps social networking sites are not the best candidates for the online advertising model.
Brands are ultimately responsible for how they appear in the public eye. It’s up to them to ensure they know when and how they will be represented, what sort of environment they appear in, and what content they might (however unwittingly) be associated with.
No brand would navigate the traditional media environment without a clear strategy and the same is true for online. Random placement in unmanaged environments, or using technology without strategy, is like riding a bicycle without any handlebars – possible, but not without some risk.
Sam Keller | Bio
Sam Keller has over a decade’s experience in brand communication and advertising.
Following an excellent grounding in international agencies working on global brands, Sam made her way via entrepreneurial start-ups in digital and sustainability, to running her own business.
From Cape Town to New York by way of London, from client management to brand strategy, with enjoyable stop-offs in copywriting, Sam is now focused on Social Media Strategy and online content development.