(Many) Advertising Agencies (Still) Don't Understand Social Media

Look, I have nothing against advertising agencies.  Some of my good friends work at top ad agencies and I admire their creative brilliance and verve.  Also, many advertising agencies do a good job with integrating Social Media into their overall work.

I also am not in the habit of taking potshots at specific ad campaigns.  Generally I figure everyone has good intentions and we can’t expect genius-level execution all the time.

Lastly, as ya’ll know, I fully acknowledge that there remain many gray areas when it comes to ethical challenges in Social Media.

But the new Stella Artois campaign struck me as such a perfect example of how some Advertising agencies take a bone-headed, campaign-is-king approach to Social Media that it begged for a discussion.  Here’s goes:

The campaign for Stella Artois is offering up a contest to attend the next Cannes Film Festival.  The premise is that “Jacques d’Azur” — a made-up cosmopolitan playboy and movie magnate — has gone missing and only his rightful heir can be awarded his spot at Cannes.

(The “star” of the campaign is transparently derivative of the Dos Equis campaign around “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”  But never mind that.)

At the Stella Artois site, the use of Facebook Connect to integrate the visitor’s personal content in the accompanying contest video is best-in-class — very tight and creative. Not only did it use my profile pic in clever ways, it also clearly made note of my gender and marital status.  The campaign is certainly worth checking out from that standpoint alone.

So far, I’d give the Advertising team a B for creativity and an A+ for technical wizardry.  The campaign falls apart in terms of its promotion via Social Media.

The Facebook Fanpage is all about Jacques d’Azur — including a fake bio, a fake Wikipedia tab, etc.  OK, fine, I don’t get all hot & bothered about such “fake” campaign sites.  It’s what makes Advertising campaigns fun; you’d have to be a real clod to not understand what’s going on here.  Still, looking at the Wall on this Facebook Page, clearly the only folks engaged are the folks on the advertising team, posing as characters from the campaign:


The lack of true engagement on the Facebook page is lame but not surprising, plus, it’s still early in the campaign: maybe more fans will lead to more actual back-and-forth.  Still, it would be nice to see some effort at engaging new fans.

Moving on … It’s the Twitter spam that is galling.  From what I can tell, there are no less than SEVEN fake Twitter accounts involved, and each of them appears to be spamming anyone on Twitter who has a decent number of followers, like so:



This appears to be going on all day, across all of the fake accounts.  I’ve had two industry friends reach out to me in the past 24 hours and ask, “Did you see that spam from Stella Artois?  Ugh.”

Why would I re-tweet that message from @celinevcarter?  What is the relevance to me?  Why was I targeted, beyond the fact that I have X+ number of followers?  If there was a better reason for targeting me than my follower count, how would I know? — I’ve only been directed to the generic campaign landing page on YouTube.


I’ve written before about the challenges that Advertising agencies face when it comes to the daily grind of Social Media.

Creating a relationship is hard.  Sustaining a relationship is harder.  Converting a casual fan to a true brand evangelist is next to impossible.  All of that relationship-building is hard to measure along the way (ROI), and, fraught with risk to boot.

It is far easier to spend millions on something cool and creative and hope to generate some short-term buzz that might lead to a measurable sales boost.

But then what? When this campaign is over, whether it’s a success or failure, what relationship will have been created with new Stella fans?  What is the next call to action?  If the next campaign is not as fun or relevant, will those fans still rise to the bait and help promote it, or, will they fail to engage and ignore it?  Will someone who became a fan thanks to this fun campaign have reason enough to rally around the brand in a crisis?

Advertising agencies don’t think such thoughts.  It is not in their DNA.  It’s not their fault, but neither should they fool themselves into thinking that this stuff is easy.

Relationships buoy campaigns.  Campaigns do not create relationships.

Posted on: March 25, 2010 at 9:52 am By Todd Defren
37 Responses to “(Many) Advertising Agencies (Still) Don't Understand Social Media”


  • Yingna li says:

    Well, I see this more as a long term versus short term dilemma. Ad agencies emphasize on immediate impact on short-term promoting, as opposed to PR agencies’ long-term relationship maintaining. Though the strategy and goal is quite different, the two is not incompatible.The fake social media messages may hurt the long-term relationship, but it’s rather a creative approach for a starter. Yesterday, in New York Times, I saw an id of Toyota lay out in Q&A format. I have no idea whether the customer truly exist and I don’t think it matters. It’s a smart way to grab the target audience’s attention and send out the information.

  • Alyson Pitarre says:

    Hi Todd, thanks for the comment earlier. I was hoping to fly under the radar for a few weeks while I finish getting the blog really up and running – so I was surprised you commented so fast! :) I really enjoy your blog and appreciate your social media insights.

    In regards to your post, I think Stella Artois got caught up in their concept. It’s not about Jacques d’Azur. It’s about their potential brand enthusiasts. I agree with you…I think it was a pretty creative idea and it had a lot of potential… but at some point, they needed to shift the focus away from their concept and back to the masses. Why do we care? What is the relevance to us? What’s in it for us? It’s a hard shift to make–especially for ad agencies. Hopefully they’ll learn for next time.

  • Justin says:

    Why is it not that the guy disappeared and you have to find him in order to go to the film festival with him. That’s much more interesting, and it’s also continually engaging. Then clues could be tweeted about his location and would also encourage people to retweet, and that’s just off the top of my head.

  • It is pretty unbelievable that such a huge corporation like Stella Artois would even go for such a, sorry to say, idiotic execution of their campaign. I mean, this sounds like an idea that would get brought up in a senior high school intro to advertising class by a student. I love your point that “Relationships buoy campaigns. Campaigns do not creat relationships.” It is very insightful and so very true. However in the case for this campaign, even if campaigns did create relationships, a lot of disfunctional relationships would be created out of this catastrophy.

  • Des Walsh says:

    Thanks for sharing your analysis and views. I was intrigued enough to check it out.I did not follow through past typing in my name (very entertaining), mainly because I am wary now of all FB apps that threaten to pester my friends. But I thought the way they pulled the info from the profile and integrated it in the game was rather neat (probably scary too if you think about it for too long!) A minor point perhaps but the site took about 1 min 20 secs to download and – the %age downloaded meter was a giveaway that they knew it was slow: did they assume people would be entertained by the countup to 100%? Hmmm.

    That said, I thought the overall concept was entertaining and the execution up to where I baled (or bailed) out, was as you indicate very tight. The business (in the theatrical sense) with the photo was quite entertaining and like you I was impressed that they got the gender right. The one glitch then was that the map showed me as being in the USA – wrong, and I double-checked my FB profile to make sure they could have got that right (with so much obvious expense, they should have had someone checking for that kind of detail).

    I guess the map glitch (?) also suggested to me that this was a contest for US people only.

    Because I did not follow through I won’t attempt any gloss on the conversation about social media, but I believe that you do make the case that they have not got the social media part right. However much or little you may have hurt some feelings, I believe you have provided a salutary illustration of the perils of getting a campaign like this not quite right. But isn’t that going to keep happening until more agency people become such habitual and skilled participants in the conversation that they will a)not want to make such mistakes and b) will have some idea of how to avoid legitimate finger-pointing and tut-tutting?

  • OMG! Thank you for coming out and saying what everyone has been thinking! It’s SO true.

  • douglas says:

    Two-way conversation is great, but not always the goal of an advertising campaign. When an objective is to keep a brand top of mind when a consumer is making a choice to buy a product, the strategy chosen seems pretty spot on, maybe the execution wasn’t fun enough, or creative enough, but the avenues seem correct. Brands don’t always have the money to sustain a two-way conversation, and who really wants consistently communicate with a beer company?

    On a separate note, shift is working on a project for my agency and your ideas/presentation was spot on, really liked what I saw.

  • Doyle Albee says:

    Todd: Enjoyed the post, and nice re-work based on the comments.

    For me, the biggest issue here was falling back in “push” and “interruption.” We will all have different tastes on what’s interesting, clever, etc., but at the end of the day, we can all agree that an out-of-contexts and unwelcome push into our Twitter streams is not good. That thinking is a big reason why we time-shift television and many of us have stopped listening to radio. Such blatant commercial messaging will not win the day in social media and will (rightly) illicit responses like yours.

    Doyle Albee
    Metzger Associates

  • I have never met an ad exec who didn’t think s/he knew everything worth knowing about PR. Nor any who actually did.

  • Rick burnes says:

    Todd, you say: “some Advertising agencies take a bone-headed, campaign-is-king approach.”

    I think you frame your post this way to highlight Stella’s lame social media follow-up to their Jacques campaign.

    That said, it’s important to be clear: Campaigns are a very effective way of creating discussion on social media. If you have a content event (how I think of a campaign), you can generate a lot of attention very quickly, particularly if you spread the content and discussion across the web via your networks.

    Ongoing relationship building and consistent content creation is important (things Stella is not doing), but campaigns can be a great way of reaching new networks and building reach.

  • Carson says:

    And how, specifically, would you get the ball rolling on the engagement other than to reach out to people like they did? It’s very difficult to grab someone’s attention and pull them in from the firehose of tweets out there.

    Looking at some of the tweets from the other characters, it doesn’t look like they’re @-ing people with necessarily high numbers of followers. It mostly looks like film types and people mentioning the brand.

  • Sorry, but the original headline “Advertising Agencies Don’t Understand Social Media” was either blatant linkbait or just plain lazy.

    While I certainly can appreciate your expertise for things Stella and their agency may/should have done differently, I was turned off by the broad brush with which you painted the entire advertising industry.

    The “PR owns social media” meme is just as tired as the “SEO is bullshit” meme or, my favorite, “[INSERT MKTG DISCIPLINE] is dead” meme. It’s a literary crutch to puff out our industry’s importance or to get attention.

    Case studies are great, I love reading them, but I try to keep them in the context of one person’s opinion about another person/agency/company’s campaign.

    • Todd Defren says:

      As noted, a fair point, Dominic! I admit it drives me batshit when I read “PR is Dead” posts so I feel bad and changed the headline and tweaked the content to give more credit where it is due.

  • Liz says:

    I actually give them points for the campaign as a whole. It’s clever to try and create fake twitter accounts and use it to promote – now the challenge is to make the actual tweets as clever as the concept. If they are entertaining and interesting, it will catch on. If not, at least they have other media touchpoints (tv, facebook, you tube) for their consumers. Or, who knows; maybe they figure out the Tweets a little better and it evolves and succeeds.

    As an agency person myself, I agree that most agencies don’t get social media. But there are far better examples than this. Like, say, the ones not using Twitter at all?

  • David Griner says:

    It’s an interesting case study, but not one that really justifies saying “ad agencies don’t get it.” Ad agencies crank out lame work all the time. PR pros crank out crappy releases all the time, multiplied by like a billion.

    I feel your frustration, but I think this is a neighborhood where we’re all in glass houses. A majority of PR professionals use social media poorly. A majority of ad agencies use social media poorly. A majority of consultants use social media poorly.

    You’re right to blame the approach, but you’re wrong to pin it on an entire industry.

  • Adam says:

    Very good points. I can’t stand when companies try to pull a fast one in this regard!

  • Kary says:

    Nice take on this campaign, which I agree, is a bit of a #fail when it comes to social media engagement. Wanted to point out that I’ve been a fan of Stella Artois on Facebook for a while, and they don’t seem to be doing any engagement there, either. And, aside from one post, no connection to the campaign.

    A frustration that has plagued the PR industry for years is the disconnect between the disciplines. When an ad campaign gets tacked on without any sense of strategic vision, it’s just lazy. Social media (and examples like t these) are continued proof of the importance of integrated strategy.

  • Mike Keliher says:

    First, I wouldn’t so quick to paint all ad agencies with the same brush. We wouldn’t appreciate the same sort of universal tarring.

    As for the campaign, though, there’s one thing that really stand out to me: It’s profoundly uninteresting.

    The Twitter invasion is not smooth, to say the least, but I can get past the fake-account stuff in the name of creativity. They’re being clever(-ish), not deceptive. More than anything, though, it’s just plain dull. It’s not funny. It’s not … anything, not anything that would make me follow or share or care.

    And the fake Wikipedia page doesn’t even look like a Wikipedia page. Fake it better next time!

  • Mike says:

    You have some very valid points. I understand how the Agency came to the conclusion that this could be a good way to spread their message. Honestly I don’t think they failed with Social media I think they lack true character development. This is a challenge for brands in general… if there isn’t a clear story to tell its hard not to push crap.

  • Jamie says:

    Advertising, especially digital, is rooted in numbers and analytics. If they can’t prove some correlation directly, most advertising people can’t justify doing it at all.

    Until the ad industry decides to set up some analytical standards for creating metrics on person-to-person and person-to-brand relationships (read: never gunna happen), or releases its death grip on the need for direct correlations in campaign metrics, they still Just. Won’t. Get. It.

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