I’m not dating your cookie

The click-through will soon be dead or at least seriously wounded. Here’s a case in point:

In this morning’s NY Times, Stuart Elliott writes with unquestioning, even breathless acceptance (yet again) about another advertiser’s idiotic idea: a social site based around a cookie.

Now why the hell would anyone with half a life go to a site from a cookie company telling her how to make friends? Why, once there, would such a person tolerate such drivel as this:

10 tips for connecting…. 3 Practice random acts of connecting. Make an acquaintance more of a friend by inviting someone you want to know better for tea and cookies… 4 Make a friendship file. Just as you might for travel or shopping, clip and save items that remind you of a friend or activity ideas for future friend dates, and then refer to it when plan time comes…. 7 Have a laugh. After an ear and a shoulder to cry on, the gift of comic relief is one of the best you can give a friend in need. If humor’s not your forte, just commit one silly joke to memory to break out on these occasions. (Here’s one: Question: What do you call a boomerang that doesn’t come back to you? Answer: A stick.)

Oh, beat me with it.

But the ad agency made a fortune convincing the advertiser that they needed to get social. And the advertiser spent a fortune — $2-3 million, says Elliott — licensing this claptrap content and making this stupid site and advertising their advertising. And their PR company made a fortune writing press releases about it. And Elliott made, if not a fortune, then probably too much money yesterday rewriting that press release.

But it only shows the absurdity of such social brand advertising. Of course, this goes back to advertisers saying that they want their brands to be associated with certain attributes (cookies=connections) and so they advertise next to certain content; that is the brand advertising that makes the magazine and TV businesses churn. God bless it. Then advertisers wanted more control over content and so God the devil created advertorials. Then came the internet, where advertisers believed they could avoid all that damned media and expense by creating their own content: cookie sites and alleged underwear humor and chicken soup Goldfish for the soul, all linked today in Elliott’s story. And then came social: another buzzword, another revenue stream. Says Elliott:

Ad spending on Web sites like Bebo, Buzznet, Facebook and MySpace — by companies like Blockbuster, Circuit City, Coca-Cola, Microsoft and Sony — is expected to total $1.2 billion this year, according to eMarketer, a research company, and climb to $1.9 billion in 2008.

But think about it: You’re on one of those social sites, already being social with your friends, and so why are you going to follow a link and click to a cookie site to tell you how to be social? You’re not. And so the cookie company is, I predict, going to flop at its cookie site (once today’s rush of Times traffic subsides) and then it will declare that social doesn’t work and isn’t worth anything and it will return to buying upfront TV.

But, of course, they are doing this the wrong way — trying to make us come to them, and for a stupid reason — and they’re measuring the wrong thing — the act of coming to them: the clickthrough. Yes, that’s how all advertisers measure their the performance, the return on investment, the value of their marketing (whether or not they pay on clicks, they measure the value on clicks).

But now we move past the internet-as-a-bunch-of-sites to the internet as a place where people connect. Sorry, cookie company, but the people do this just fine without you and your silly advice. In fact, the internet always has been a place where people connect, only we — and I include me — in media and marketing were to egotistical to see that. So rather than trying to make people come to you and rather than trying to make them go to media sites where your brand is associated with the content there, you now need to go to where your customers are and not to irritate them with advertising but to help them with service, not to barge in but to be invited in. That’s what makes Facebook’s new recommendation advertising engine so intriguing: once you see your friends like something, what better advertising than that? Why click through; that’s already ad nirvana, right?

So the story about the cookie connection site is not that another clever advertiser has discovered social. The story about the cookie connection site is that it is the last absurd gasp of a dying media model, the idea that you can create advertising so compelling that people will want to click to come to you. Come now.