Lucian Trestler


Media is slowly suffocating social media. The relentless optimisation towards media efficiency and mass reach is resulting in shorter, less effective social banner adverts. This is disrupting people’s experience of social and not shifting brand metrics. It is time marketeers shifted their focus away from paid reach and towards organic resonance, writes Jack Colchester, Senior Data Strategist at BBH London.

In 2016, brands spent $27 billion buying media on Facebook, a hefty 57% year-on-year increase.

This is very good news for Facebook, but the transition from an inherently organic, social platform to a paid broadcast channel has had some immense consequences on the quality of social marketing output.

The primary consequence is that with big media budgets come big responsibilities. As brands spend more money they are asking for two things: reduction of uncertainty and proof of effectiveness.

Reduction of uncertainty has largely taken the form of guaranteed reach, through paid media. ‘We will reach 5 million people at a frequency of 2, to ensure your brand and product message is seen 10 million times’.

Proof of effectiveness is a more slippery beast to measure, but companies have shifted the focus away from active engagement metrics such as likes, comments and shares to more high brow efficiency metrics such as view through rates, completion rates, CPV and recall.

With attention spans on social being famously short, the argument goes that in order to maximise the performance of an advert that has reached 10 million people, we need to ensure that it is less than 10 seconds long, has prominent branding in the first three seconds, is formatted vertically and so on. This optimisation towards media efficiency is resulting in the bannerfication of social. In the process, this neglects the very thing that makes social different to other forms of mass broadcast marketing – the potential of immediate earned reach. To achieve it, we need to create work that deserves people’s attention, rather than disrupts it.

In short, earn your reach, don’t buy it.

Earned reach is not as dead as Facebook would have you believe, in fact our last two videos for KFC (here & here) organically reached 60 million people and created headlines across the world . A single organic tweet from Tesco this week about the tampon tax performed better (in terms of resonance and press coverage) than any paid tweet we have ever published.

Social platforms have been reducing organic reach for years in order to generate revenue, however the decline has been compounded by the use of paid media. Using paid media throttles organic opportunities in a ‘media squeeze’. I would suggest embargoing paid media for 24 hours after going live.

Earning reach means creating work that is inherently social and adds to the cultural conversation. This sounds lofty and worthy, but attention seeking, culturally informed work is the only way to combat the utter indifference displayed towards social banners.

The primary objective has to be fame. Achieve fame and all the other metrics will follow.

If you’re in the fame mindset of ‘what would the headline be’? then understandably the next most important thing is the primacy of the idea.

You need an idea that is provocative and culturally informed with brand or product baked in. Will this idea generate high levels of earned reach? Use the plethora of data that exists on customers to aid the strategic and creative process in uncovering what a culturally informed idea might look like. Crucially, this data should be embracing the outliers, you are not looking for generic social insights about how millennials prefer experiences over things. Instead it’s about uncovering social quirks, memes and trends related to your audience. If you want to be an additive to culture, you’ve got to know it.

To achieve the maximum potential of social, we need to stop selling the certainty of reach and start managing the uncertainty of fame.

BBH Live will be giving a talk on the theme titled ‘IS MEDIA KILLING SOCIAL MEDIA?’ at Social Media Week later this year. Stay tuned.


Great entertainment is transgressive. It breaks the rules and provokes your emotions. Brands must overcome their need to be liked and challenge their audiences if they want to create entertainment that truly impacts culture, writes Richard Cable, Editorial Director at BBH London.

If great advertising and great entertainment have one thing in common, it’s that they both provoke a profound emotional response in their audience, be it delight, nostalgia, curiosity, love, empathy, righteous anger or desire. Indifference is the enemy of effectiveness.

Where advertising can only flirt with these emotions, branded entertainment gives you the time to consummate the relationship, building equity through sustained, positive emotional engagement. The same job just longer, right? How hard can it be.

Quite hard, as it turns out. The great branded entertainment revolution is pretty long in the tooth already, but still seems to be churning out an awful lot of what might politely be termed ‘brandfill’. Content that stirs no hearts and stops no thumbs. Entertainment that is unentertaining. More unloved stuff to add to the great slush pile of ‘meh’.

Which is odd, because it’s not as if there are any wheels to be reinvented here. Sure, some of the lessons are new to an industry whose output has been shaped by the constraints of 30 seconds, 48 sheets and double page spreads, but the knowledge of what makes great entertainment has been in development since homo sapiens first evolved the capacity for speech.

Story. Character. Empathy. Structure. Craft. Patience. These are the sort of fundamental principles most brands can really get behind. Yet try and name your top five examples of branded entertainment from the last 12 months and you’ll struggle to get past one. So why isn’t more of it better?

It’s because most brands are in the business of being liked. Their instincts, naturally enough, are to appeal to as broad a church as possible; to avoid discord and accentuate the positive; to veer away from anything that might tarnish by association. While this may serve you well for your next banner campaign, but when it comes to creating entertainment – the sort of entertainment that impacts culture – this ‘needy’ instinct is fundamentally flawed.

Great entertainment challenges. It transgresses. It upsets and bewilders, riding roughshod over your carefully cultivated social and cultural boundaries, and merrily lobbing hand grenades into your calm pools of emotional tranquillity along the way.

A high school chemistry teacher turns sociopathic drug lord. A corrupt president defies every law, including the fourth wall, in his pursuit of power. A repressed father experiences a late blossoming as a woman. A desperate teenager commits suicide and posthumously blames her friends.

What Breaking Bad, House of Cards, Transparent, 13 Reasons Why, and pretty much every other landmark entertainment moment ever has in common is a willingness – in some cases a compulsion – to break the rules, and in so doing take us to some very, very dark places, where the good guys don’t win, where the ethics are murky and where we are forced to ask questions about our own cherished beliefs.

And yet we don’t feel repelled by Netflix or Amazon for doing this to us. On the contrary, we are rapt. We await the next instalment with unrestrained enthusiasm and change the rhythm of our lives to accommodate their schedules. We discuss what it means in intricate detail, binge watching to be first to the finish and wishing bloody retribution on the propagators of careless social media spoilers.

The reason they take us into these dark places isn’t gratuitous. It has purpose. In his famous rant, design legend Stefan Sagmeister berates a rollercoaster designer for describing himself as a storyteller. “No fuckhead, you’re not a storyteller, you’re a rollercoaster designer.”

What the unfortunate rollercoaster designer may have been getting at was that his designs depict the emotional graph of a story well told – a series of climbs to accentuate the drops, constantly hurling you from one extreme to the other with the intention of fully commanding every fraction of your attention while you’re on the ride.

More often than not, brands’ instincts lead them to flatten out the rollercoaster, subordinating the power of emotionally provocative storytelling for fear of diminishing the brand’s appeal. To succeed in entertainment requires brands to reconcile these two instincts and get them pulling in the same, rather than opposite directions. Because a rollercoaster without the peaks and troughs is basically a commute, and nobody commutes for the pleasure of it.