Since the dawn of marketing communications (and approximately 16 seconds before that term was shortened into the insufferable mash-up “marcomm”), advertising agencies and clients alike have fallen into the same trap over and over and over again. No, not the starburst trap. No, not the underline-important-words trap. No, not the show-the-customer-smiling-while-holding-eating-caressing-the-product-inappropriately trap. No, not the”¦well, let’s just say the traps into which those of us in the business can fall are legion. But today, the trap of which I write is the trap of equating a tool with a strategy.

The tool-as-strategy trap is an easy one to fall prey to. It usually involves a shiny new form of media (Newspapers! Radio! Television! Internet! Telekinesis!) and a proclamation that all previous forms of media are forthwith null and void posthaste, etc. etc. Gurus arise (often of the self-anointed variety), agencies and clients are fleeced and large segments of the populace don’t notice a thing has changed.

The current tool du jour is social media. Social media includes such things as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and a bunch of other sites that promise to be different than Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn but really aren’t. Social media does not include such familiar anti-social media as television, radio, magazines and billboards. Because you enjoy those mediums alone, with nothing but the cold, echoing groans of your empty soul to comfort you.

Also, MySpace no longer counts as social media. It has carved a newer, niche-ier segment known as Perv-n-Indie-Band media. Also, kitties.

Companies as vast as General Electric and as tiny as the neighborhood dry cleaners are into social media, bombarding us with pleas to “like” their Facebook pages, follow them on Twitter and, as a favorite SM saying goes, “join the conversation.” Which is all well and good, assuming companies understand the difference between being on Facebook and Twitter and actually using the mediums to advance their businesses.

Because, as I may have alluded to a scant few sentences ago, social media is a tool, not a strategy. It’s like any other tool in advertising: Wield it well or be prepared to poke out an eye. Just as there is a wide gulf between great TV spots and anything starring Vince “Slap Chop” Schlomi, there’s a big difference between successful social media campaigns like Pepsi’s Refresh Project and Best Buy’s Twitter-based Twelpforce, and tossing your pizza chain’s locations up on Facebook and throwing some coupons to your 193 Twitter followers.

There are several attractive aspects to social media. First, it’s cheap to get into. Unless you’ve managed to hold onto to that TI 99/4a for the past 30 years, chances are your computer will load up Facebook and Twitter just fine. So, your initial investment comes down to time, which is often comes in the ultra-affordable form of intern-time. But that’s where too many companies and agency begin and end their foray into social media – with a young youth who either thinks he’s knows everything about social media yet knows nothing about the brand, or admits he knows nothing about either. Note the all-around lack of brand knowledge going on. So much for faking it till you make it.

Like all media, it is possible to create an effective campaign using social media alone. But, unshockingly, the best social media efforts tie into broader schemes. The best current example of this is Old Spice’s “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” campaign. This campaign originally launched with one thirty-second spot, a couple of fifteens and a microsite. And those spots exploded into all manner of glorious joy bits over YouTube, racking up at least 14 million views from my coworker Silver alone. Oh, and the thirty-second spot won the Grand Prix and Cannes. A nice piece of hardware, even if it stinks of mime.

Now, Old Spice and their agency, Wieden+Kennedy, could’ve kicked back, tossed out a couple more derivative spots and called it a campaign. And, in fact, they did do some more TV spots, although no one would accuse them of phoning those in. But then they did something that can really only be described as cool: They put their now über-popular character to the task of answering their fans with personalized videos. Pulling comments from multiple SM sources in real-time (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, etc.), the creative team scripted responses that TMYMCSL (actor Isaiah Mustafa) delivered in his typical, manly style. Videos were posted to YouTube and their arrival disseminated via Twitter and Facebook. They did this for two days straight, answering comments from anonymous tweeters to celebrities to Mustafa’s own daughter. In the end, they had produced over 100 clips, lit up the online world and gained even more fans for the brand. It’ll probably win some more trophies next year. And, crazy of crazies, it was all part of a strategy.

Sure beats the heck out of “Who wants a coupon?” tweets, doesn’t it?

Later,

Fox

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