Mark Zuckerberg makes his millions capitalizing on our deeply rooted desire for socialization. Technology, and in large part Facebook itself, has certainly changed what we consider social. In addition to the traditional gathering places like schools, churches and markets, people are gathering online and sharing their joys, sorrows, interests and annoyances. Recently, in an effort to pump up the social network’s profitability, Facebook announced it will streamline its ad offerings and apply a social aspect to each of its products.
But, an aspect of these “social” ads have marketers buying an individual user’s post and sponsoring them—placing them at the top of that user’s friends’ feeds. The posts come straight from the individual so it appears to be a recommendation rather than a solicitation.
In a recent article from BuzzFeed’s Charlie Warzel, a friend of his had nice things to say about Bonobos on Facebook. The brand took notice, sponsored the post and relentlessly presented that post to his friends for weeks. It prompted comments such as “this post is the Facebook version of an STD,” “this is irrelevant to my interests,” and “due to this ad I am never buying Bonobos.”
Probably not the response Bonobos was hoping to get.
It’s understandable how we came to live in an advertising world where this kind of marketing is a reality. We’re swimming in the legacy of a one-to-many marketing model. Our technology is at a point where reaching millions of people is commonplace, but we’re struggling to extract relevancy from our tremendous reach. So now we slice and dice by demographics and we apply big data to our advertising tactics in an effort to get closer to the 1:1 conversation we want to have with customers.
But those tactics are the antithesis of social. We’re in the Uncanny Valley of digital advertising ad relevancy. The Uncanny Valley refers to a robotics concept in which there is a point of a robot becoming too human-like, and as a result, it causes a negative reaction in people. In the case of digital advertising, a consumer’s emotional response becomes increasingly positive as ads become more relevant to them, up to a point when the response quickly becomes revulsion.
The problem is our environment; the closer we get to relevancy in a one-to-many communication model, the more unsettling it is. “Social” ads, like the Bonobos example above, backfired because it became creepy, invasive and transparently exploitative. Tactics such as remarketing, retargeting and hijacking end with the same results—advertisers lose as many (if not more) brand loyalists as they gain—because they’re crossing lines of what people find acceptable to their environment’s behavior. Once your environment knows more about you than you’re comfortable with, it’s unsettling.
So what’s the answer? We need to stop trying to achieve 1:1 relevancy in a one-to-many advertising environment. Our technology has come full circle—it’s gone from mass media to personal media. Let’s acknowledge that and use its highly personal nature to aggregate the hand-raisers. Let’s deliver a consumer-centric, hyper-relevant and a respectful advertising experience. Let’s stop alienating our customers with relentless, unwanted ads and enable consumers to opt-in to our relationship on their personal tech.
There’s a time and a place for mass media—and we can and should achieve a level of relevancy with it—but we need to stop short of advertising’s Uncanny Valley.