The Real Problem with Facebook Advertising: Extreme Engagement

The real problem for marketers is that unequivocally all-consuming, immersive Facebook experience. The issue isn’t exclusive to Facebook, however. It’s any media placement where the site you choose turns out to be your biggest competitor. In other words, reach doesn’t equal impact.

What do you do when you go on Facebook? You’re probably checking out everyone else’s status updates, getting in some FarmVille playtime, liking or commenting on a post, chatting with a friend, writing a clever update for your own profile, watching a video, or maybe even tracking down an old friend. Facebook is a virtual amusement park with no shortage of options. It’s no wonder we spend an average of seven hours a month on the site.

In the midst of this pandemonium is the lone voice of your sponsored ad, app or brand page. Guess who wins?

The real problem for marketers is that unequivocally all-consuming, immersive Facebook experience. The issue isn’t exclusive to Facebook, however. It’s any media placement where the site you choose turns out to be your biggest competitor. In other words, reach doesn’t equal impact.

Too much focus on reaching the ‘right person’
We’ve all been collectively oohing and aahing over the cool (or creepy) technology that promises to find our target consumer wherever he or she roams. There’s no shortage of companies with proprietary algorithms and models at the ready to help you find her (and, in turn, further ruffle the feathers of the privacy police, but that’s for another post). In this scenario, the Facebooks of the media world will always turn up on top, because that’s where everyone is.

But by only focusing on reaching the “right person,” you’re underestimating the more qualitative and definitely more hairy problems of the “right message” and the “right time.”

It’s a matter of context
Of this marketing trifecta, the least talked about is the right time. Unlike the right person and right message aspects of the equation, this is the one where marketers have the least amount of control. It can turn into your biggest enemy.

The core issue is the inverse correlation between immersiveness of an experience and receptiveness to marketing messages. This finding has been confirmed across all media types, including television, websites and print.

One of the most interesting studies on the topic was related to Super Bowl advertising. The researchers compared ad recall among three groups: those supporting the winning team; those supporting the losing team; and those who didn’t have a favorite team. It turned out that ad recall was highest for those who were neutral and not emotionally involved in the game. It didn’t matter if your team was winning or losing, the fact that you had a team meant you were focused on the game and not the ads. However, those who were less immersed in the game were willing to listen to your pitch.

Sure, you can fish where the fish are, but there are no guarantees they’ll bite. So what’s a marketer to do?

Steer clear of competitors for mind share
Marketers don’t typically think of media placement as a form of competition. The rule of thumb had been the more engaging the site the better, when in fact the reverse is true. It’s counterintuitive, but as the Super Bowl example illustrates, you want your audience involved, but not too involved.

Your audience can be focused on a particular task, so long as the task isn’t all consuming. For example, if they’re quickly checking on the weather or a sports score — these are in-and-out activities — you can be there as they check out. I’ve seen a lot of success with campaigns on these quick-reference sites in the past.

Thinking beyond targeting and messaging
So, there you are with your exquisitely crafted message and flawlessly calculated targeting, but are you taking into account what the consumer is doing, thinking and feeling at that moment?

The problem of immersion isn’t limited to Facebook. It just happens to be the perfect embodiment of extreme engagement. The same issues would hold true for other high-involvement sites and channels such as video, in-game and mobile. Ultimately, this is all about knowing your audience. One man’s diversion is another’s obsession.