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Social Media advertisements without the human element

Sean Huxley // 17th September 2017

What happens when the human element is lacking from social media advertisements?

Cast your mind back to the year 2012.

Taylor Swift told us that we are never ever getting back together, Obama was re-elected for his second term and Facebook released its first ever video advertisement to coincide with the social network platform reaching 1 billion users. The video titled – ‘Chairs are like Facebook’ was Facebook’s attempt to get all philosophical on us with lines like – “Chairs. Chairs are made so that people can sit down and take a break. Anyone can sit on a chair and if the chair’s large enough, they can sit down together”.

I’m guessing Socrates Zuckerberg and Co thought they nailed it with this video, but it wasn’t received well at all. In fact, if you search this video on YouTube, you are more likely to find a spoof video rather than the original. Facebook had good intentions. They had a message they wanted to portray to the world –  that they bring people and ideas together. But their delivery was skewed. This advertisement came across as over-dramatized, confusing and pretentious. ‘Chairs are like Facebook’ is a great example of when companies overshoot the mark in social media advertising, try too hard to be something that they are not and exclude the human element that we all want to relate to.

Now lets leave 2012 and return to 2017. Taylor Swift is still in the headlines, Donald Trump is president of the United States, Facebook has 2 billion active users and companies are still misreading the room when it comes to advertising to us on social media. Take Pepsi for example. Pepsi decided to cash in on the Black Lives Matter protests by making a protest-style video showing how Pepsi can bring people of all different races and genders together. If we sing and dance through the street and ask Kendall Jenner to hand a police officer a can of Pepsi, everyone will cheer and celebrate and get along. YES! that is the real premise for the ad! The whole concept sounds ridiculous, and it is ridiculous because issues such as police brutality are not solved in the way that Pepsi would have us believe. And just like the Facebook video, Pepsi got laughed at, and social media won.

If you want to see how a company successfully engages with current world issues to promote their business – check out this Heineken video. Heineken acknowledge that topics such as climate change, transgender and feminism aren’t easy discussions to have. The video pits two people in a room with opposing views – a climate change denier and an environmentalist; a feminist with a “new right” member; and a transgender woman with someone who thinks transgender is wrong. Each pair is to assemble flat pack furniture and has no idea what the “social experiment” is about, whilst also clueless on one another’s conflicting views.  At the end of the video, they are shown each other’s comments about topics that both people have strong opinions about: “Transgender, it is very odd, we’re not set up to see things like that” and “I am a daughter, a wife. I am transgender.” They are then offered a choice – leave the room, or stay and discuss their differences over a beer. Heineken were relevant, relatable and real with their audience and it paid off.

We the people, are pretty good at identifying when we are being duped. We know when something doesn’t feel right and when we are being treated (even unintentionally) as fools – and we don’t like it.

Facebook, Pepsi and Heineken have the luxury to hit and miss with their advertisements. They can be applauded on social media or laughed at, but it won’t put them out of business.

As social media becomes saturated with content, the best way for small businesses and social media accounts to stand out from the crowd is to be real and relatable with their audience, just as Heineken did.

People aren’t chairs, and Kendall Jenner handing you a can of Pepsi won’t solve all your problems. Let’s hope in 5 years time, Donald Trump is no longer President, Taylor Swift is still making groovy tunes and out-of-touch advertisements are a hilarious thing of the past.

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Sean Huxley

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