Danny Sullivan has an article in Advertising Age entitled Forget Facebook. Search Ads Are the Revolution he writes
Facebook unleashed SocialAds this month, calling it the beginning of a revolutionary, hundred-year era in advertising that will see the end of untargeted messages in mass media. If the revolution is upon us, allow me to submit the lowly search ad as the true revolutionary. For unlike social ads and most other types of advertising, search is something people want rather than something that gets in the way.
The trusted referral is indeed a holy grail, and Facebook will offer a new way to build word-of-mouth. But how did that friend find the sweetener in the first place? What comes first -- word-of-mouth or the egg? At some point, a new product has to hatch, and those old-school brand-building channels probably will always play a crucial role. Search offers a key way for new products to emerge and be spread around. People turn to search for solutions -- ways to enjoy coffee without the calories or local coffeehouses to try. If you're not visible in search, perhaps you won't generate word-of-mouth as easily, if at all.
Search isn't revolutionary for aiding word-of-mouth, however. It's revolutionary for not "getting into" or in the way of anything. People turn to search when they have particular desires and need particular solutions.
I agree with Danny that the search advertising like AdWords is revolutionary while word-of-mouth advertising platforms like Facebook’s SocialAds are evolutionary. With search ads, for the first time in the history of advertising people can find advertising when they are looking for it and otherwise it stays out of their way. When I search for digital camera or zune 80 it is quite likely that I’m making a purchasing decision so showing me ads related to buying these devices makes sense. On the other hand, when I search for foreach C# or XmlTextReader.NodeType I don’t get irrelevant ads shoved in my face. That level of match making between given consumers and advertisers is unprecedented.
However this doesn’t mean that there isn’t something to be said for brand advertising and word of mouth. For search advertising to work, I actually have to have been looking for something in the first place. A lot of advertising today is intended to create the desire for a product in the first place not help you make an informed choice. For example, I saw the movie Enchanted last weekend. I found out about the movie from TV ads and thought what I saw looked funny. My wife also came to the same conclusion from watching similar ads and then we decided to see the movie. After seeing the movie, I thought it was great and rated the movie in the Flixster Facebook application which sent out the following notification to my “friends”
a few days later, one of my co-workers said she saw the movie on the strength of my recommendation and other factors.
This story is a small case study in the effectiveness of traditional “media-based” advertising coupled with the power of word-of-mouth marketing using social networking sites. For now, search ads simply cannot provide a similar level of return value for such advertisers. Although search engines like Google have tried to encourage this behavior, people don’t typically perform searches like movies 98052 then decide what movies to see that weekend based on the search results page. This means that for certain classes of products, traditional advertising techniques in combination with word-of-mouth techniques like Facebook’s social ads are extremely valuable.
However at the end of the day, it is extremely unlikely that improved word-of-mouth techniques will be as impactful to the long tail of advertisers as search ads have been or ever will be.
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