At a conference of fortunate brainstormers today, Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg said something interesting:
"More than 90 percent (of marketing dollars) spent in the world are not in direct, but in brand, and that's (about) generating awareness."
Perhaps I've sat in one meeting too many (there are those who would say it's around one thousand too many), but this description of a separation of powers between direct and brand I have heard once too often, thank you.
This world view is of 90 percent of all advertising money being spent on saying "Hello, here I am" and 10 percent on securing a sale.
It's a world view of real people out there pointing their noses at advertising, staring in rapt awareness at a brand ad and muttering:
"Hmm. Thank you for making me aware about that product with your interesting and expensive brand ad. I can't wait for the direct response ad to come along so that I can feel sufficiently moved to actually buy the product."
100 percent of all advertising is direct.
Any piece of advertising you see or hear is attempting to create a direct effect.
It's just that some advertisers have found success with directly rational appeals and others with more directly emotional insidiousness. (What is the rational appeal of Dr. Pepper? Please discuss.)
We do a lot of purchasing (and other decision making, for that matter) at the instigation of our weird and irritating inner selves.
It's quite surprising (at least to those in the discipline that used to be called direct response) how many supposedly emotional ads make people buy the product the next day. And again the day after that.
Is a so-called brand ad that has a URL at the end still a brand ad? Or has it seeped into the uncreative, ugly nether regions of direct salesmanship?
The supposed chasm between direct rational selling and direct emotional selling (which always has more than a sprinkle of rationality) probably stems from a time before the telephone.
Or from a culture, such as the British, which dominated advertising creativity by looking down upon commerce and genuine human feeling (the latter was deemed "schmaltz" and left entirely to the US), but looked reverently up at wit and humor.
Suddenly, everyone wanted to do funny ads. By everyone, I mean creatives who thought funny was a passport to sex and riches. (they tended to be more successful with the former)
What Sheryl Sandberg was admitting today is that in order to make money out of Facebook she can't run anything that resembles funny (or not) TV advertising.
But equally, social networks, which have a strong emotional character, are outraged to apoplexy when they see something that looks remarkably like one of those revolutionary cleaning liquid ads on QVC.
A friend told me the other day that she saw an ad for a revolutionary green tea on her Facebook page that identified her by her sex and age and said something like: "36 and feeling chubby?"
Please imagine what kind of direct, um, brand emotions that ad might have released.
Facebook is torn between interrupting its members in a way they will tolerate or even applaud and a medium, the Web, that doesn't rely on advertising for its existence.
The Web is personal. Even when it's social. It's a medium for the masses, but not a mass-medium.
Real people make Web-based decisions daily about how they want to be seen, what they want to do, what they want to buy and how.
For any advertiser, this is a particularly pungent purgatory.
In essence, Facebook should be the place where advertisers cast aside terms such as 'brand' and 'direct' and re-invent what constitutes an ad. An ad that sells.
In a medium based on the personal and on relationships, you just can't talk AT people any more.
But brands still want to be deeply involved in any place they can find more than one person at any given time. It's something to do with money.
Of course, by setting her strategy for growth rather than for monetization, Ms. Sandberg is acknowledging that Facebook is buying time to find some way to work this out.
As directly and in as brand-appropriate a way as possible.