The Days of Wine and Roses

By @mannyneps

It isn’t readily apparent, but we’re closing in on an important shift in online marketing. Advertisers have not only discovered that the Filipino public is on Facebook, they’re also beginning to do something about it. To be fair, canny marketers have been saying this for months – but the reality of budget cycles and marketing processes often means that advertising campaigns can, and do, take months to roll out after planning and conceptualization.

The result: an endless stream of TVC end tags (“Find us on Facebook!”), half-baked Facebook apps, and me-too Fan page recruitment promotions usually offering Apple products in violation of Facebook page guidelines. At least we’ve moved away from asking users to upload photos of themselves with the product – or, even worse, videos of them consuming it.

Oh, you haven’t? Well, as long as we’re all here together, I suppose.

The most conservative estimate I’ve seen of Facebook penetration in the Philippines is 70% of online population – that is, 7 out of 10 Filipinos online are on Facebook. The remaining 30% likely include people like my father, who, while technically savvy and joined at the hip to his e-mail account, recently asked me to list the advantages of being on social networking sites. The Facebook crowd is not necessarily tech-savvy, generally young (at 35, I’m skating on the leading edge of the demographic) and moneyed if not affluent – in short, a great market to go after for most, if not all, mass-market brands.

To rephrase: Facebook is going to be a battleground, and it’s every brand for itself. In the next few months we’re going to see a deluge of branded content pop up in our News Feeds: “viral” videos, tag-yourself contests, status-changing apps, and the like. But where brands go through a process of natural selection in TV, radio and print due to the high costs of advertising in traditional media, the low-cost democratization of Facebook advertising essentially means that the mom-and-pops of Manila get as much time with you as the big brands. For a few months, at least… before the big brands outspend them.

What is missing (here’s where it is going to hurt) is creativity.

Maybe this is flamebait, but there has been nothing lately as game-changing and powerful as Whopper Sacrifice from any ad agency in Manila. Maybe Axe Twister. Probably not. (Full disclosure: I worked on Axe Twister.) For all that Facebook is the new forum – and I use this term in the hopes of conjuring up the entirety of its Latin heritage as a place where citizens of all walks of life mingled – there has been nothing that has demonstrated the mastery of digital marketing on Facebook.

It’s at this point that I fully expect every advertising person worth his salt to rise up and pray to the heavens that I be struck down. After all, every ad agency spends countless hours in pursuit of awards for innovative marketing. The award with the lion. The one with the big shiny disc. The one with the boomerang. And I am saying, here and now, that we’re not creative enough online.

So here’s where I’d like to take this: sell it.

The next few months are going to bring an unprecedented amount of money to anyone to can make campaigns on Facebook work. There will be money spent on Facebook ads, apps, pages and community management. The geeks who’ve been reading up on FBML will finally be rewarded. And, I promise you, 90% of the stuff that will be put online will make the average user chuckle, up until the next thing that makes him chuckle, and if we’re lucky, he’ll remember the brand that paid to put it into his News Feed.

Sell the campaign that makes Facebook take its head out of the sand and kick it off the system.

In years to come, we’ll look back on this age as a time before Facebook jumped the shark – before overadvertisement broke down the foremost social network in the country and, dare I say it, before we jejefied our online place of worship. We are entering an age of excess – of indiscriminate ad targeting, when the new metric of success is the size of a brand’s Like page community, and the new standard of mediocrity is the iPod giveaway raffle for a tagged photograph.

If we want to be able to justify the numbers that other pundits have touted – 20 million users, #5 country in Facebook, etc., etc. – we must be better than this. We need to exercise our much-vaunted Filipino creativity to own Facebook – to be the country whose online initiatives are copied elsewhere in the world. We must own Facebook – if not in numbers, in ideas.

If you are able to do this, I won’t be giving you anything pretty to display in your offices. As a matter of fact, I’ll be trying with all my heart and soul to tear your work down, to deny you the honors you so richly deserve, out of sheer unwavering jealousy.

But I will be thanking God for you, in the dark spaces of my soul when no client is paying for my time.</br>

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@mannyneps is a digital marketing specialist with a top ten ad agency in Metro Manila.  He is frequently wrong.  This no longer embarrasses him.

Guest Writer