It's time we start treating Facebook like a grown-up

Why is it that the TV spot often comes first in creative briefings, even when the media is mostly digital, ask strategists at Mistress.

The oft-reported story goes something like this: on Feb. 25, 1983, 125 million viewers tuned in to watch the "MASH" finale on CBS, a ratings and advertising bonanza. Today, except for the Super Bowl, and debates that featured Trump vs. Clinton, brands can't find mass audiences like that anymore.

Oh, the good old days.

But we like to add the phrase "... on TV."

Because it's 2016, and we think the good old days for mass audiences are right now. We don't worry about declining TV-watching audiences. We believe brands have digital aces up their sleeves, and they need to adjust their strategies, planning and thinking in order to take advantage of the world in which we actually live, where "MASH" is in perpetual syndication somewhere, but we're too busy streaming "Stranger Things" to know.

And the biggest ace of them all? Facebook.

It's not news that Facebook is big: 1.79 billion monthly active users around the globe. It's also not news that Facebook is so much more than a social network: it's also a top news source, it's our events, it's how we keep up with celebs, it's where we watch live video, it's Whatsapp and Instagram. Facebook, like the internet and smartphones, is now part of our lives, despite its recent video reporting challenges.

At Mistress, we oftentimes see clients question Facebook over Snapchat in connection planning (we're all neophiles in marketing, right?). Call it being "grandma-fied"—Facebook audiences are perceived as older, when everybody's on the hunt for millennials and Gen Z. But with its sheer scale—like TV used to be—plus a massive push into video, Facebook simply is the largest, most powerful marketing platform in the history of the world. To think of Facebook as "social media" is to utterly miss the point. So is lumping it in with Instagram, Twitter or Just like TV and print are different in application, so are Snapchat geofilters and YouTube pre-roll.

Not everyone is missing the boat. We have anecdotal examples of Fortune 500 companies taking Facebook and other social media platforms very seriously. Like P&G. Like McDonald's. Like Geico. But often, in our real-world interaction with brands, we find that media and creative strategies are stuck in another era: TV is still top of budget, with appropriate analysis and rigor, while digital is a lump sum toward the bottom, focused on views or click-through rate. In creative briefings, the TV spot often comes first, even when the media application is mostly digital. Why is that? 

Here's what else we know: digital spending, at $72.09 billion, will overtake TV at $71.29 billion in the US this year, for the first time. With this much digital ad spending at stake, this is what brands must do now: 

Apply the same TV principles to Facebook. 
TV is scale. So is Facebook. With TV, marketers plan based on reach, frequency and GRPs against key audience segments. On Facebook, even if the tools have different names, the strategies are the same—brands need to reach large-scale audiences with a message. Facebook is robust: you can target millions by geo (e.g. Los Angeles + 25 miles), age, gender, demo (e.g. education, financial), interests (e.g. entertainment, food and drink), behaviors and more. Marketing and business goals are not forgotten on Facebook—13 different objectives to choose from, across audience development, lead-generation, video views and more. Brands must allocate budgets based on which medium will best achieve goals, not just because TV has always come first.

Brief in social concepts, not TV spots.
This past summer, a video of a young man in makeup as an old man taking on the bodybuilders of Muscle Beach in Venice, California went very viral on Facebook—to the tune of 95 million views. Turns out, it was an ad for Smith & Forge hard cider that looked nothing like a TV spot. It had a great hook, was highly shareable and three minutes long. The creative concept: Made Strong. This is a good example of why creative strategy matters—because the question wasn't: what would make a great TV spot, but instead, what inspires watching and sharing? Facebook, like TV, is a cluttered environment. Just as the industry asked itself how to stand out in a pod of commercials, the answer is the same on Facebook: great insight and great creative thinking, tailored specifically for the medium.

Plan for both media and production budgets.
This is a surprisingly overlooked step. We find that marketers include line items for "social media" but don't allocate enough dollars for social production budgets, especially in a time where every platform clearly prefers video. In the meantime, $400,000 is set aside for one on-location TV spot. This creates a real challenge for today's integrated campaign. Hundreds of assets are often required to reach the millions of people on social platforms, as the best practices of Snapchat vs. Twitter vs. Instagram drastically vary—and a repurposed TV spot is not a silver bullet. Brands that allocate budget for the production intricacies of social platforms have the best shot at making an impact.

Remember the algorithm.
Disney has 50 million likes on Facebook. A recent video they shared (Beauty and the Beast) had 36,000 views after two days. Why such a disparity—shouldn't the views be much higher? Enter the Facebook algorithm: even if you have 50 million followers, that doesn't mean that 50 million people will see your post because it is Facebook who decides. If brands want greater reach, even with their own followers, they have to pay. It might seem unfair (but we earned those followers!) but this is the way it is. A social strategy requires a holistic approach across audience development, content development, organic posts and paid media.

Recognize that control has shifted to viewers.
Before DVRs, before second-screening, viewers were captive audiences. Not so today. In an era of ad-free Netflix, ad-blocking software and skippable pre-roll, brands have a much bigger task: to inspire people to choose to receive their message. Viewers don't have to watch your video on Facebook, even if their friend shares it. But giving them a reason to watch—whether that's info, humor or heart—is the key to social success. Recognizing this dynamic flips the concept of a TV spot on its head, to focus instead on a watchable value proposition.

We'll always have the Super Bowl. For the other 364 days of the year, we can no longer forget we have Facebook, plus YouTube, Snapchat and the rest as our new mass media, inspiring us to find creative ways to reach large-scale audiences in our modern media culture, 1 million millennial moms at a time.

—Todd Lombardo is a digital media strategist and editor at Mistress. Christian Jacobsen is a founder, partner and strategist at Mistress. Find Mistress at and on Medium.

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