Social media focus: How can brands use social to create the same level of impact as traditional advertising?


By Ishbel Macleod | PR and social media consultant

August 12, 2013 | 7 min read

As part of The Drum’s social media supplement, we asked a cross-section of people working in the industry their views on a number of relevant topics.

Here, we asked: how can brands use social engagement to create the same level of impact or brand awareness as traditional advertising?

Pete Durant, social media director, Manning Gottlieb OMD

Does traditional advertising exist anymore? TV ads are integrating with Twitter, press ads are mobile enabled, outdoor fuelled by social actions. It is key to see social engagement (commenting and sharing of content) as a behaviour that people enact as instinct. Whether it is a TV ad, press spot or social campaign, you need to drive this to take your message further. I would look at using social engagement in three ways: amplifying and extending your ATL advertising through things like second screening; a social by design campaign that is driven on social; or one-offs like video content. If done correctly with the right investment, the latter for example, can provide you with millions of views and wider awareness: our recent Renault Clio va va voom video is a great example.

Steve Cater, head of digital, whynot!

“Impact” by its very definition is qualified by its effect. It’s all well and good to see something. Seeing something that makes you act is far more valuable. Yet, impact is worthless without reasonable scale. Reaching people in an impactful way in through social requires value and relevance. Impactful engagement trades entertainment, knowledge and/or opportunity for awareness and ultimately action. Without valuable and relevant engagement brands are unable to compete alone through social media. Content strategies built on brand relevance and a good knowledge of the consumer are of the utmost importance to ensure results. Tread carefully or “Condescending Corporate Brand Page” will strike you down!

Kristin Brewe, director of marketing and communications, IAB

It would be foolish to say that I can grow mass audience brand awareness as quickly in social as I can in broadcast TV. Television remains an extraordinary medium for building brand awareness in mass audiences quickly. The one exception I can think of is social video where some content has achieved awareness on a rapid and massive scale globally: Gangnam Style as one example (catchy content, but also a carefully orchestrated social seeding campaign from Psy’s record label).

However, if I want to reach high awareness levels and create an emotional connection with my brand among a specific audience, I’d focus a lot of effort on social media. Social achieves strong awareness and establishes that really authentic emotional connection which is more challenging for traditional mass media formats to achieve.

For example, if I were a baby clothes brand, I’d work diligently to have a presence on new mum community sites and across the social channels where mums are really active. Or, if I had a new line of gourmet bacon, I’d spend a lot of time on foodie blogs and social channels where foodies spend a great deal of time. Of course, it never hurts to have traditional media, whether that’s TV, outdoor or radio, alongside social media, but for some communities, especially those where digital natives are the norm, social media and other digital channels may be more effective in meaningfully reaching those audiences.

Wayne St Amand, executive VP of global marketing, Crimson Hexagon

Whilst traditional advertising is creative, attractive and delivers a certain level of control, the overall marketing impact is dwindling. Consumers no longer believe everything they see in advertorial because it’s known that brands have paid for the space. By using social sites through earned media instead, brands can nurture and encourage users to relay their experiences – whether that be sharing an in-store experience or praising customer service – via these channels. While there is less control over social media than traditional forms of advertising, social engagement offers a far more powerful element in terms of consumer perception and thus, the overall impact is greater.

Take Yelp for example – the outlet proves word of mouth endorsements are far more reliable and trustworthy than a paid endorsement. The wave of the future for brand awareness lies in influenced and earned media, and although it’s not as controlled, the ability to guide consumer conversations, understand customer preferences, promote positive feedback and inspire the sharing of experiences is there, and arguably the most powerful and persuasive form of advertising today.

Daniel Stern, account manager, Essence

Social engagement can be used to extend the accessibility and global reach of a campaign. While traditional advertising is by no means redundant, social has a much higher engagement rate with smaller associated costs. By using incentives a brand can create two-way relationships with customers, talking to them directly to cement their loyalty by making them feel a part of the brand.

Jim Dowling, managing partner, Cake

They do different jobs.

Advertising interrupts what you're doing – tells you something – and gives you no right of reply. You can skip forward on Sky+, or close your eyes and not look at the bus stop you're waiting at, but ultimately, you didn't consent to seeing it.

Social is more powerful. People step forward towards a brand. They want to talk to it. They want to hear what it's got to say. The IAB says that four out of five would be more inclined to buy a product if they've been exposed to its social presence.

Can advertising create the same level of impact as social?

Jan Rezub, CEO, Socialbakers

Social marketing holds an ever growing audience, time spent in social media now matches or sometimes even exceeds that of traditional ad channels, and impact can be maximized by targeting not masses of people, but targeting the right people. This is what advertising on social networks and particularly Facebook does perfectly well! If companies take social media as a "free and viral" channel, they will be proven wrong. Today, unless you are extremely lucky to achieve good viral reach, it’s really about building the right balance between growth, engagement & reach (paid, organic, and viral), and a great relationship with customers via social network.

Iona St Joseph, social media account manager, A social media agency

Social media is all about creating conversation, so if you do this well, it can be far more effective in terms of awareness than traditional advertising. It could be argued that, as with social media, it can be difficult to prove the ROI with traditional advertising as well. Timing is key in terms of social engagement, it gives you a lot more opportunity to push out reactive content, which has a great effect on the impact of brand awareness.

Previously, they were asked that they thought the biggest change has been in social so far in 2013.

This interview is part of our social media supplement, out on 2 August.

Content created with:


At Emplifi (formerly known as Socialbakers), we believe all companies should be able to show genuine empathy toward their customers and gain the insights needed to meet fast-changing expectations. Our mission is to close the customer experience gap by bringing together social media, marketing, and care teams to optimitze digital interactions.

Find out more

The thinkpeople family

We are a family. And at the heart of every family you will find people.

Find out more

Manning Gottlieb OMD

Find out more


Industry insights

View all
Add your own content +