Retweetable Ads: The Dream That Never Dies

Originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider

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It
sounds so perfect: you put a "share this" button in a banner ad and
suddenly even stodgy, old display media becomes social media. Pay for the
impressions and get the viral effect as a bonus. It's the future of
advertising!

There are just two catches to this: it's been done before, and
it's not the future of anything. It's a bell, a whistle, or maybe a bell and a whistle if
executed well. But it's not going to fundamentally change advertising, social
media, or anything else.

The latest entry in the space is TweetMeme's Adtweets, announced
in late November
(and illustrated above). TweetMeme, which has become the go-to Twitter aggregator
and the most prominent source of "retweet this" buttons around the
Web, is allowing advertisers to add a retweet button to standard ad units. You
can't blame TweetMeme for overselling it: "The Adtweets are a way of
putting pressure on advertisers to improve the standard of adverts…"

 While it sounds rather charming with the British accent,
it's not going to improve ad quality. Instead, it might put more pressure on
advertisers to attempt to create humorous or captivating ads that may do
nothing to help their brand. Evian's "Rollerbabies" ad just earned
a Guinness World Record
by becoming the most viewed online ad ever, with
over 45 million views, yet I have yet to see any coverage of the record that
mentions Evian's market share or any other success metric from the brand's
perspective. Maybe a needle moved, maybe nothing happened, but it's hardly a
clear-cut case that a viral ad means it's successful.

The concept of sharing ads through social media isn't new. Google
Gadget Ads launched
in September 2007
, and I don't know if I've ever seen one in the thousands
of hours I've spent online since then. Clearspring and Gigya have also offered
such functionality, and Spongecell makes it easy to "share with friends,
or the world – without leaving the ad." I love that this functionality
exists, but most of the time it's not necessary.

Here are four reasons why this isn't a game-changer:

1) Most
ads aren't worth sharing
. There are always exceptions to this
rule — the DVR-proof ads on TV you'll look for on YouTube and the newspaper
and magazine ads you'll rip out and save. The same applies to banner ads, but
that's relatively rare.

2) Sharing
often isn't the best call to action
. Are you trying to get a
consumer to buy something? Request more information? Go to a store? Watch a TV
show or movie on a certain date? Learn more about a new product? Get exposed to
a new brand name? Think more positively about a brand? In any of these cases,
sharing competes with the primary call to action. And if the primary call to
action is to share the ad, what's the purpose?

3) Network-specific
ads work best within those networks
. Consider Facebook's
Engagement Ads and Digg Ads that can be voted up or down. Each of those
advertising experiences is customized to the publisher. Yet a Facebook ad
wouldn't work the same way on the homepage of Forbes.com, and visitors to WebMD
would generally be thrown off by Digg buttons on ads running there. As for
tweetable ads, targeting can help — a tweetable ad on TweetMeme.com or
TechCrunch will find a more receptive audience than if it ran on a mainstream
publisher. But such ads will still need to clearly illustrate why such sharable
functionality makes sense in that context. I'm skeptically inclined to think
advertisers will slap a "tweet this" or "share this" button
on less discriminately, and then call it a social media campaign.

4) Most
marketers and agencies don't plan earned and paid media together
.
That makes the value proposition a harder sell. Consider a marketer running
display ads to drive traffic to its site, and (generously) 1%  of
consumers click the ad. Say that marketer adds sharing functionality, the
click-through rate (CTR) drops to 0.8%, but another 0.7% of consumers share the
ad with their friends. In the latter scenario, that can be lumped together as a
1.5% engagement rate, but instead the marketer will be held accountable for the
20% drop in CTR from 1% to 0.8%. If you're still with me, let's take it one
step further. The shared version of that ad (shared 0.7% of the time) would
need a 29% CTR to generate enough clicks for those marketing strategists to
keep their jobs. Then they have two choices in this admittedly oversimplified
scenario: they have to demonstrate the value of the ad's pass-along rate, or
they have to go back to generating clicks as efficiently as they can.

I still love the idea of sharable ads. It will become more common, and
I'm sure a lot of marketers and agencies will use it in ways that achieve their
goals. But it isn't going to make advertising better, any more than YouTube has
made TV advertising better. It's just one more option marketers have online,
where some pioneers will get great PR for it, some followers will ride the hype
coattails, and most others will consider it — if and when sharable ads make
sense for them.

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