Advertising in the changing world of Social Media

The argument for advertising is compelling. It gives information. It increases competition. It creates awareness of alternatives and brands.   It creates brands that people aspire to and therefore drives consumerism which is good for the economy.

Today the same arguments against advertising are equally if not more compelling. It gives misinformation.  It tries to replace awareness by subtle messages targeting consumer’s fears, insecurities and self worth, especially kids.  It actually tries to decrease competition. It drives a false consumerism that is environmentally unsustainable, especially on issues like water etc.

The truth lies somewhere in between.  But increasingly the consumer and communities are beginning to doubt the intentions of the advertiser. While the advertising professional is getting better at selling his/her product, they are doing a terrible job of selling themselves as people working honestly towards the good of the community they claim to serve. And in doing so they are serving their clients badly.

As the world becomes increasingly competitive, and quarterly results and stock market valuations drive corporations towards profitability at all cost, consumers and advertisers are moving dangerously apart.  And the loss will be completely the advertisers if they continue to do so.

Much of the reason is Social media. Advertising usually looks deeply into the mind of a single consumer and creates within him/her a desire to buy a product. All advertising affects the community of course, but it is believed that ‘chatter’ will come slower and later.  Rarely has advertising reached out to large communities unless they are public service ads. Of which they are many great ones.  The advertising professional is just not trained for dealing with the size of communities being created by Social Media, and certainly not the speed at which they relate/share/chatter with each other.  Before they realize it, the message has spread and could turn negative even as the initial Media Buy has not played itself out.

A great case of community creation is the Apple Brand.  Of course the product is great 🙂 (I’m a fan)  , but it created a cultural following that allows it to put great premium on its product and thereby become the most valuable companies in the world. So much that the founder Steve Jobs became a cultural icon. Comparable only to Willy Wonka and his Chocolate Factory !

However culture is very very sensitive to change.  Which explains why Apple was so quick to explain/redress the news that the Apple brand was being supported by malpractices in use of Chinese labor.  Social Media opinion can turn a wave into a tidal wave and even into a tsunami before you can counter it. And that tsunami is about to hit a lot of advertising that is not realizing the sheer strength of a community and its power in Social Media that can overturn the best laid marketing plans.

Nestle’s would have never sustained with it’s campaign in Asia to against  mothers milk in favor  of powdered milk for as long as it did if Social Media was around at that time.  Social issues are hugely predominant in Social Media as information is actively shared. The community will express itself with force.

So what do you do if you are an advertiser ? How do you promote your product/brand in a world where Social Media is exploding ?

a. You must be far more sensitive to the community. You must find ways to relate to them from within the community to understand their fears and desires.

b. Talking to communities from within the community rather than from outside as Advertising tends to do will be really important. You relate amongst the community rather than outside  it.  Those days when genius minds sat on a table churning out brilliant ideas that will take over the minds and hearts of the consumers are numbered. The new ‘advertising  genius’ is socially aware, caring, emotionally connected and active member of the community who ‘serves’ and not ‘manipulates’

c. Always be aware and sensitive to messages from the community when they are mere waves, and before they turn into tidal waves. If the community is trying to tell you something, listen. Understand.  Don’t wait for marketing feed back reports. Social Media is a great listening post, and is usually free. The advertising professional  is too used to thinking of the community as targets – target groups , target demographics etc. Communities have begun to resent being targeted.

Advertising is becoming more and more suspect in the collective mind of communities. Often with good reason. If there is to be honor in advertising, the professional must evaluate him/herself as a caring and concerned part of the well being of the community.  And act according to that.

Social Media offers huge opportunities too. Interaction with the community could help create a ‘Social Brand Identity’ which is far more powerful than just a Brand Identity. It could do more.  Active participation with the community could help product development for your client too. This is just the beginning.

I go to Cannes Lions to speak on these and other issues, and welcome comments/debates on this forum from advertising/creative professionals.

27 thoughts on “Advertising in the changing world of Social Media

  1. Namaste sir,

    This is a well thought article. Thanks a lot for posting your views. I endorse & agree. I do think, entire media & people associated with media in various capacities, domains, knowledge, etc. need to understand “consumer” in totality than getting carried away.

    I do think that today’s Indian media and people associated are making same mistakes and blunders that happened in past in US.

    They learned nothing from past & history. They are re-inventing the same wheel. They are making the same mistakes.

    Difference between US and in India is? Today 120 Cr. Indians, parents & their kids will pay a huge price. I don’t think our country & every countrymen is geared up to pay that price.

    Sincerely I remain,

    Phadke S. N.

  2. I agree with what you have to say, but the thing on the mind of the individual is not actually even good sales, it is just that the person wants to come up with something new and creative that grasps everyone’s attention and brings accolades to the creator. So, when ‘sales’ has no place in the minds of the copy writer or the creative director how can social welfare be? Ad agencies are not places were social welfare is discussed in any capacity; probably a change in trend should be compelled into them.

  3. the exploitation of people in the sweat shops of India, Bangladesh, China, Indonesia etc is the by product of consumerism.
    The paupers working in inhumane conditions and fatal environment to produce goods to meet the demand falsely created by the “BIG BRANDS” and these fancy companies sell them to us @thousands times more then their actual cost. such is a deceive which is created by them with the sole help of deceitful advertisements.
    the ad makers has such a exalted talent that they can make a dreadful cannon to shoot flowers and beauty of life. but its very sad how they are wasting it to do just the opposite. in this money driven society advertisements which are not in public interest are WMD.
    what ads should really convey is:
    – to aware people what they actually need not what they want i.e the pseudo-needs created by the money grubbing companies.
    – to fill the persons brain with useful info about the product instead of brain washing it for blind consumption.
    – give point to point description of the product without creating much of a hoax.
    – And finally the ad filmmakers should work with their conscience, the consumers are not targets but living beings with emotions so start treating like one and make ads that are free of deception.

  4. Respected sir,
    In India and all across the globe one common thing which helps advertisers create a so called “hype” is of course sensationalism (though many including me don’t endorse it). Irrespective of the fact that they are people who do affect a large chunk of crowd all they want is mass appeal. Meeting targets are more important than ethics. (by they i mean advertisers of respective firms)
    I personally believe that advertising has much more impact today than it had 20 years back. And with increasing accessibility to social media the responsibility has also increased. With giving an advertisement just one click away we need to be careful of what we endorse.
    I totally agree with your arguments (apple inc) and also insist that you also focus on the pros of social media and not only the negative aspects of the same. Good luck.
    A K

  5. Social media has given real meaning to the words ‘brand ambassador’ and ‘audience interaction’. All of this we know and much of it we had forecast. It is not why social media is changing the world.

  6. Quote
    While the advertising professional is getting better at selling his/her product, they are doing a terrible job of selling themselves as people working honestly towards the good of the community they claim to serve. And in doing so they are serving their clients badly.

    The naked truth..agree with your views..

    And to sell a product marketing is required..selling and marketing are two different things I suppose..selling requires marketing and sales indicates assured growth or declining trend.where as marketing informs where are we in the business field, sales, economy and can become handicap without advertising..advertising is grass root level work for selling(I am saying grass root level work for selling not for marketing) a product…Japanese and Korean marketing and advertising techniques are far more different..there products and campaigns are different.always an attempt is made that the product can be used in a simple way in day-to days life.

    I think the problem in advertising filed might be different…
    Basically the living mechanism, (yes I mean mechanism, is there any natural way of living…) is also becoming costly and there is a limited scope left in front producers/manufacturers and hence there are limited options in front of advertisers too..Once the advertisers learn to say ‘Yes we can not advertise this brand’ as your product fails in serving the norms of the society, the situation may change..

    The every product company has to think on why are we bringing the new product..instead of bringing new flavours suitable for definably it this the natural demand of the society..or an artificial requirement generated by the system to earn the the name of for surviving of the company we should bring a new product line..The latter thought is very much harmful..for every can corrode the company earnings,name, fame, good will

    eg principle of IC engine is used in cars and trucks..but owing a car is pride and owing a truck means business again different pride..there are a lot of manufactures of both worldwide..
    the brand name telco known for trucks suffered a huge a pain while bringing their cars on roads
    the brand bajaj known for scooters suffered a pain while bringing mopeds, bikes.
    where as maruti, hero honda, tvs brings their product variety after every 3-4 years..
    This is my opinion based on my observations

    I know..I know when I say norms of the society then many of the white collars will start looking at me(or some one who just tried to utter the truth) as if I/some one am/is a Hitler of this era and dictating the way of living..and that is why for such people I will have to say..there is a Hitler inside you and that is you see Hitler outside..when these white collars Hitler will learn cardinal principle which every businessman follows is, the businessman has complete faith and trusts in his customers, who is from the society..which has norms already..the businessman knows that he is just to help or serve his client in a better way…and that is why an advertising company should think like as stated in your a), b) and c)..

    thanks to you, you picked up a nice subject…thanks for sharing….subodh

  7. Hi Shekhar,

    It was great to read your thoughts on how advertising rules consumer decisions and behaviour these days. I have myself recently been thinking about stories and practices that go behind making products like our iPhones. electronics, shoes, clothes etc.

    It worries me to think that we don’t know where any of these products are made and where they come from. There might be so many practices that go behind making these that affect the larger social, economic or environmental systems. But due to deceptive or so called great advertising or something else, we tend to forget to ask those important questions.

    We get so narrow-visioned, that while buying a product, we only try to find out how many mega pixel camera does does the product have, or how many features does it have, versus questions like is this recyclable? Will it end up in a landfill in India or Africa, or can it be reused? Is it ethically manufactured?

    Do you think advertising can play a role in making systems more transparent and fair in the future? Since we see all of social media creating more transparent information systems.

  8. I feel what is shown in TVC are ads for those companies that are capable of paying high media placement cost of advertising and thus are good companies mostly which are serious about growth and indirectly name for their product or quality.
    The major issue in India is counterfeit products, cheap products, unavailability of good products or poor distribution system etc as I have found products advertised are good compared to non advertised ones.
    Reason for unethical behavior by ad firms are shrinking ad budgets and concepts like return on marketing investment by ad firms clients which makes sure that they will get money as the ad works. This requires out of box thinking and as they say survival of the fittest requires more sensationalism. Though I agree with Sekhar Ji and phrase will be read Survival of most adaptable.

  9. Hi Shekhar, In context to the article,feels glad for the intelligent yet practical sharings about the role of social media.
    Just to add : I have observed that the emotional advertising allow people buy the goods they desire .
    but my point is if everyone watches the social media,not everyone buys the same product but everyone buys something to meet the particular need/requirement so its all about the practice of choosing the right thing for you & the mindset plays a vital role to buy the utilities advertised by companies.
    Let me explain by quoting a simple example – my neighbour consumes amul milk,i consume mother dairy so its debatable which brand is best amongst the two,but what matters is your personal satisfaction & knowledge status ,which is more significant.

    But yes, big companies spends money like water to grab the attention of the consumers & enhance their revenue irrespective of the fact that due dilligence being done & social media creates hype !!

    Regards & Gratitude.
    Supreet Arora

  10. Every arena has to inculcate within its activities, what they call Morality in their business. Advertisements are the most influential medium. Its only objective is to influence people. The Subtle difference of putting focus on moral value of product has to be the grounding principle of every social medium.

    But, is this really a possibility? when every business institution’s only aim is profitability. for example, IT companies lure young people by way of super glossy construction, air conditioners, facilities, but, hidden stories of people losing their connectivity of their nativity, communication between loved ones are reduced. People become workaholics, digitally addicted, living in virtual world alone, Facebook all are good to keep in touch, but what happens to personal meeting? face to face meetings? Overall, social medium in all spheres is not contributing to human evolution, or, ironically, it some ways, it contribute to a human’s evolution much faster, out of a human’s disgust towards all these madness.

    The Business houses the social houses should begin to look at things beyond profitability. The aims of all business may be like these – our aim is to become a 100 billion $ company, and once, it reaches its target, its next aim is to become a 1000 billion $ company. The rich become richer and the poor remain poor.

    The society is driven by economics, rather it should be driven by values. Its sorry to see that even governments are driven by economics, and seldom by heart!

    Money is not the best compensation as it is popularly felt to be!

    These days, very big companies are establishing cancer institutes in order to win the local government and people’s confidence and in turn take it as a blind blessing of people to build huge companies, by destroying forests and other natural resources. Now what sort of kindness are these gestures by these huge companies? they also do an emotional advertisements to share with people that they have built a cancer hospitals, but on the other hand, it generally does not gets noticed how many natural resources are destroyed.

    The mathematics is planting one tree and destroying 100 trees and make the planing of one tree a huge achievement by way of social medium. who gets to know these subtle details?

    A country and its constitution should have moral value principle point by which it is governed, and that system which restricts unreasonable desires of economical freedom.

    Economics is like fire, it eats away everything, in all its way. Social medium is its fuel.

    There is an urgent need for great care.


  11. Does India have well defined guidelines for advertisement to children? What age groups can be targeted? I also have concerns about advertisements and promotions penetrating schools.

    I remember I was introduced to Maggi noodles in my elementary school. This was in the 80s when Maggi from Nestle had recently entered Indian market and had limited reach. The salespersons from Maggi noddles had visited our classrooms and distributed each of us a pack of Maggi. I and my classmates excitedly carried the packs home.h Now as a grown up, when I think of it, the idea makes me fairly uncomfortable. Children are extremely impressionable and cannot make an informed choice. Any promotional event in school is like a gospel of truth for them because of the reverence and awe they attach to their schools and their teachers.

    Imagine makers of soda, chocolates, chips n cookies making donations to big school chains and in return have their brands stamped all over the school. We would end up having study desks embossed with soft drink brands, play areas screaming with chips and cookies posters.

    The above may sound as a paranoia but is not far fetched given the rise of consumerism in India. The need of the hour is well defined guidelines/regulation on the content appropriateness, medium used for advertisement especially with regards to children, children age groups that may not be targeted etc. Several developed nations restrict advertisement to children under the age of 12.

  12. Very true Shekharji. I guess its this uncertainity in the consumer world which is causing them to view advertisers with a negative eye. And it comes out in the form of “he is just speaking crap” et al.

    On the advertisers front, they do try to adress some insecurities that ply in the mind of a common man.

  13. Shekhar, I would love to agree with you, but… in the Indian context, do you think Social Media is relevant? Where only 10% of the population have computers and even lesser have Internet, how effective and broad a medium can Social Media be for a marketing manager?

  14. Nice article…written with a balanced view without getting caught up in the binary of ad world and the public world 🙂

  15. Dear Friends,

    Just felt, this is of great importance and want to share with you all. Not even wanting to take sides, but, simply recognizing the immensity of “importance” of becoming aware of facts –

    Here is the text of the statement submitted by Vandana Shiva at India Gate in New Delhi. It was also submitted in Mumbai and Kolkata on the same day. The statement can also be found and signed at (

    Also, See Video and Transcription of Vandana Shiva’s presentation of the National Appeal on Koodankulam (

    “An Urgent Appeal to the Conscience of the Nation on Koodankulam”

    (Snapshots from the article)

    Dear Fellow Citizens of India,

    On the occasion of our Parliament, the pinnacle of democratic governance, celebrating its 60th anniversary, our hard earned democracy is being ruthlessly repressed and violently suppressed. Within the accelerated race towards ‘destructive development’ and the generation of nuclear power to fuel such ‘development,’ entirely peaceful mass protests voicing people’s legitimate dissent are brutally put down. The common man, woman and child are unheard. In utter desperation, people in Koodankulam have surrendered their ‘Voter ID cards,’ the ultimate symbol of ‘people’s power,’ which is the essence of any genuine democracy. Can there be a more ominous way to dissent?

    Much like the recent anti-corruption upsurge, various actions for social, gender and ecological justice and other struggles in various parts of the country to safeguard people’s rights for their lives, dignity, resources, and livelihoods, the people’s movement in Koodankulam demanding a safe future is facing callous repression from the government and continued apathy. Disappointingly, our mainstream media also persists in under-reporting this genuinely popular movement.

    People in Idinthakarai village had to end their 14-day long fast this week. It is appalling that nobody from the Tamil Nadu, or Central Government came to speak to them, and that police strength in the area has been intensified, with every possible intimidating tactic –including taking away the food ration cards of agitating villagers.

    We appeal to you in a state of urgency and desperation.

    The debate on India’s energy future is far from settled. We will need broader consensus and greater persuasion to ensure that India opts for the safest, most sustainable people-centric energy future.

    The reactor project in Koodankulam perpetrates too many unacceptable violations of norms and procedures. The agitating people are peacefully and persistently trying to raise several important questions – both site-specific and generic with regard to nuclear power – through all possible forums. Many independent experts and scientists have already emphasized the various dangers of going ahead with the Koodankulam reactors.

    At this critical juncture, we urge that realizing a wider consultation is necessary before continuing the large-scale nuclear expansion that this government is already deeply engaged in.

    We entreat you to demand that the government immediately stop intimidating and harassing peaceful protesters.

    It is imperative that we immediately unite by raising our voices to defend democracy and the ethos of our country. Unacceptable precedents like the outright repression and silencing of the Koodankulam people’s movement will have adverse implications for all future individual and collective struggles.

    (Source –

    Thanks to all,

  16. An article about a makeover for Diet Coke by French fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier caught my attention — not for the contents of the bottle, but the form of it. (Please google ‘Jean Paul Gaultier & Coke’)…..Haut Couture to make Diet Coke hot ?!

    I can’t remember the last time I ventured near a soda, or got wooed by million$ glitzy, creative commercials enticing me into consuming them. We all know that the Coca-Cola company has come under intense criticism for unethical business practices all over the world (See Wikipedia for Criticisms of Coke). I may not be Coke’s most adored customer, but extending their ‘creative’ approach to their peers in brand marketing, question to perhaps ask is have we become a society dumbed down by advertising that emphasizes form over content, with flawed content masked by celebrity endorsements & designer accoutrements? Or are advertisers, perched in their mansions of *haut* creativity, isolated from the real world, where uber-connectivity of consumers is the new reality?

    Despite the proliferation of brands, ironically we live in an age of choicelessness. Devoid of REAL choices. Meaningful, Purposeful, Enhancing, Empowering choices. Well, market mechanisms in a capitalistic society were *intended* to give us that– through ‘healthy’ competition churning out ‘better, new & improved’ products/services in the truest sense of these words, for a profit. But somewhere along the line profit motivation of demonic proportion seems to have usurped & compromised the thresholds of real choice. How many times have you walked into a restaurant that offered 10 different varietiies of sodas — that, for sure is a rainbow of colors from coke reds to pepsi blues? Those sugar-pumped, bubbly choice of acids that make up this world of infinite choicelessness….choices that are guaranteed to eat away your internal organs.

    Was the haut couture design for the Coke bottle meant to increase brand awareness? get more people to drink Coke? help embellish a tarnished image? win a design & creativity award? What was this creativity really about? Seductive tactics and haut couture designs may be creative dressings to garner eyeballs (and may be a few [dumbed-down] consumers as well) but not mindshare. In the age of social media, what brand marketers espouse as *creative marketing*, may actually be the source of their very destruction, if their fundamental offering of a product/service is flawed. This cannot be elucidated more clearly than in the recent social media promotion fiasco by McDonalds…..

    Hoping to crowd-source *good stories* about McDonalds, the company promoted #MeettheFarmer & #McDStories hastags on Twitter….ironically, within minutes of launching it, the hashtag soon morphed into a bashtag — with over 2000 irate consumers descending on McDonalds with anti-McD tweets. The company had to withdraw the promotion within 2 hours of launching it! One only has to watch the Oscar-award-winning documentary ‘Super-size Me’ to understand the genesis of this anti-McDonald sentiment, and the extreme health risks (obesity, diabetes & more) of epidemic proportion that a fast-food culture like McD’s has engendered. What started off as an opportunity on social media, turned out to be a nightmare for the brand. (Google #McDstories to learn more)

    So, dear brands, and, ad-makers that support brands:

    A few ideas to consider embracing if you believe in reinvention in the age of social media….

    You may have spent months or years diligently hashing out the four Ps of marketing, hired the best creatives to chalk out a strategy for ‘targeting’ …and while Gaultier-designed Coke bottles and #MeettheFarmer hashtags may be creative, it may serve you to follow 2 simple Ts of new age marketing to new age consumers…

    Be Tranparent. Be Transformational.

    Choosing a brand, for a consumer, may not be as challenging as choosing a life partner…but for brand marketers it may very well be to their benefit to think it is! For in seeking brand loyalty, the parameters of what’s expected of you may not be significantly different — trust, honesty, authenticity, reliability, unmanipulative care, meaningful purpose and relevance!

    The more you demonstrate adherence to these tenets, there’s a chance your *target markets* will embrace you eternally. And in the event of betrayal, not only will they denounce you forever, but ensure that their friends and their friends’ friends dis-Like you on Facebook, tear you down on twitter, pin you down on pinterest and gag you on Google+.

    Welcome to the world of customer-empowering technologies that are shifting the playing field & ground from under…McDonalds discovered it the hard way.

    In the age of uber-connectivity, it’s the brands with meaning and relevance to the new age consumer that will stack up favorably over their mediocre counterparts. Kudos to Disney that recently made a landmark decision to ban junk food advertising to children on its networks. More power to Disney for launching many other initiatives placing stricter standards for food & health advertising across its many online and offline assets, placing meaningful choice for customers ahead of profits. Such shifts in business consciousness that pay attention to profits, people and the planet are the ones that will ultimately emerge as brand winners, fetching the brand far greater returns than a myopic pursuit of profits through compromised offerings.

    I am neither a Coke nor a McDonalds fan. But if they reinvent themselves, a la Disney, I and possibly many others may well become. For brands that do, social media offers an ultra-fertile ground of phenomenal opportunities for customer engagement, retention and nurturing long-term brand loyalty.

    And brands that fail to recognize the shifting paradigm of brand-customer dynamics will inevitably face the peril of extinction.

  17. Social Media has really boost advertising nowadays. It’s the best and easiest way to market your product to millions. In just one click your word spreads. However, one thing to remember is to always be responsible in everything that you post online, may it be for advertising or for just giving your personal point of view.

  18. I agree with your point on the need for corporations to embrace social media and pay attention to what is said there but whilst your point about social responsibility hurting a brand in today’s world are well founded, unfortunately I think its only applicable out west. The typical Indian consumer doesn’t think beyond themselves, they’re caught up in their own lives and are not going to deprive themselves of a product just because it comes at the cost of someone else’s misfortune. A simple look at Diwali or even Bidis proves that argument. I believe that people first need to realize that they need to set examples for themselves rather than move with the masses – the attitude of “well, everyone’s doing it” is wrong – change can only happen one person at a time.

  19. sorry and to end that argument – and until the consumer changes itself, the Corporations will continues playing to the masses.

  20. I’m amazed, I have to admit. Seldom do I come across a blog that’s both equally educative and engaging, and without a doubt, you’ve hit the nail on the head. The problem is something which not enough people are speaking intelligently about. I’m very happy that I stumbled across this in my hunt for something relating to this.

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