Down In The Alley

A few years ago, the couple who live across the alley behind my house decided to host a small gathering on their driveway for those of us living nearby on either side of the alley. A few homes had sold recently and they decided that this would be a good way to welcome the new neighbours and help everyone get to know each other a little better. It was fun, and this annual tradition lives on 4 or 5 years later.

This year’s edition of the alley event happened last Saturday afternoon. One of the things I enjoy about these neighbourhood gatherings is having the time to learn about each other in a relaxed setting.

On Saturday, I was having a good chat with my exceedingly well-named neighbour, Rick. He asked about the nature of my work and so I gave him a bit of an overview about how I measure marketing effectiveness. That quickly led to him asking me this question:

“What did you think of General Motors’ announcement that they were pulling their Facebook ads?”

My first reaction was that I supposed GM felt their ad spending on Facebook wasn’t working.  As we continued, our conversation shifted to the timing of GM’s announcement, mere days before Facebook’s highly anticipated initial public offering. We concluded that something must have gone wrong in their relationship with Facebook for GM to announce their decision at such a sensitive time.

After Rick, who is an actor, entertained the local kids by juggling while walking on stilts, I went home, considered our conversation, did some research and organized my thoughts.

What I Found & My Thoughts – #1

In case you missed it, GM announced they would eliminate $10 million of advertising spending on Facebook. This still leaves another $30 million which they spend on their Facebook marketing initiatives, although I don’t believe any of that spending becomes Facebook revenue.

Clearly, GM thinks there’s an audience on Facebook worth engaging through marketing, but not so much for advertising, at least not yet.

What I Found & My Thoughts – #2

The $10 million is a drop in the bucket compared to GM’s 2011 total US ad spending of $1.8 billion ($3 billion globally), and Facebook’s 2011 revenue total of $3.7 billion, most of which was for advertising.

Smart marketers who spend $3 billion annually on advertising almost certainly also measure the effectiveness of that spending pretty rigorously. It is a natural part of the process to question, evaluate and optimize all parts of that spend on an ongoing basis, and the Facebook ad spend would be subject to that scrutiny.

What I Found & My Thoughts – #3

It has recently been reported that Facebook and GM are back in talks to renew GM’s advertising and that GM is asking Facebook for more data to bolster their measurement efforts.

Perhaps the problem was not so much that GM’s Facebook advertising didn’t work, but rather that GM couldn’t prove whether or to what degree it did, or didn’t. I also wonder whether GM’s pre-IPO announcement was a negotiating tactic to get the data they want from Facebook.

What I Found & My Thoughts – #4

I noticed that following GM’s announcement, their rival Ford tweeted something to the effect that Facebook ads are effective when used properly. Let’s assume the people at Ford are also pretty smart and measure rigorously, too. By implying they know their ads are effective, their tweet also implies they are better than GM at measuring Facebook ad success, and thereby raises some related questions:

  • Does Ford use Facebook ads differently and in a way that makes measurement easier?
  • Is Ford better than GM at setting measurable objectives for each ad?
  • Does Ford already get better Facebook data than GM?
  • Was Ford’s tweet was just an attempt to position themselves as smarter than GM?

We can’t know the answers to these questions, but we can remind ourselves of a few marketing measurement fundamentals:

Set clear and measurable marketing objectives: To know whether a marketing program worked, you have to first define exactly what it would mean for your program to “work”. In other words, what outcomes would make you happy?

Your objectives must be reasonable and attainable: A clearly defined objective isn’t necessarily attainable. A good outcome can still fall well short of an unreasonable objective, and be classified as a failure, when in fact the failure was in the setting of the objective.

You need to be able to get the data you need, consistently, reliably and cost-effectively: This may be at the crux of GM’s discussions with Facebook. GM may know exactly where they want to go with their Facebook ads, but they just can’t tell if they’re getting there, which when you’re behind the wheel of a $10 million dollar ad spend, is sort of important.

It will be interesting to see whether GM and Facebook can reach an agreement. My guess is that GM won’t want to walk away from advertising to Facebook’s massive and targetable audience, particularly if it seems their competitor(s) may be having success in this regard. Maybe GM just needs to know if they’re meeting their objectives and whether their Facebook ad spend has them driving on a six-lane superhighway, or somewhere down in the alley.

About Rick Shea
Rick Shea is President of Optiv8 Consulting, a marketing consultancy that helps small to mid-sized organizations improve their marketing impact and business outcomes through customer insights, strategic discipline and effective content. Copyright ©2016 Optiv8 Consulting. All rights reserved. You may reproduce this article by including this copyright and, if reproducing electronically, including a link to: http://www.optiv8.com/

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