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.

  • Good post, Jeff, and very on-target. This is the sort of Advert-Darwinism that will help MY side of the web evolve properly. Thanks for the ‘heads-up.’

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  • Even more absurd than a broad community site based around a cookie is that the site itself is not at all social.

    No interactivity, purely a publishing brochure-ware site – the closest you get to contributing any content to this ‘social’ site is by signing up to an email newsletter?

    $2-3 million… for this… wow.

  • LOL…I thought you were referring to computer cookies – you know those advertising things that mysteriously attach themselves to your computer…

  • The concept of the micro-site for advertisers was flawed long before the social aspect of the Web began. It’s been bad marketing for years.

  • deb

    You tell em Jeff. Alas it is still too difficult for the entrenched to NOT look at theu niverse from the old framework of MEDIA and REACH and AGGREGATING little you the customer to me the BIG brand,

    Facebook is intriguing but again it depends on the levers and filters – just cause my friend likes something does not mean that I do. At least they are trying to work from a new framework. I stil think they should have given me the user to turn all ADS off as default..;)

  • On one hand, on the surface the P. Farms site does seem like a new marketing tactic that tries to tap into the hot chocolate/cookies consumer who’s looking for comfort and maybe a bit of empathy. The article says that the cookie site is using social… but social what? I don’t see any evidence of message boards, user interaction, or anything like that, just like Paull Young noted. I just see a bunch of content for the reader to take in. Is the theme here improving relationships? Maybe I keep thinking of social media when you mean something else.

    I think Stuart Elliot has made a spurious connection, more implied than literal, between Facebook, MySpace, etc. and the P. Farms site. To me, the “cookie” site is no different than a golf club manufacturer giving you tips about how to make business deals on the golf course or a SUV manufacturer giving you tips on off-roading destinations.

    However, you make an excellent point: why on earth would I go seek out a cookie site? What’s going to draw me there? If I want to improve my relationships I’d be more likely to go to Sally Horchow’s site because she’s the expert at maintaining friendships, not the cookie maker. If anything, P. Farms should be paying Sally Horchow to put a link on her site to come to P. Farms to check out the content or they should get Sally to endorse them in a blog post, or something.

    Good post – it really stimulated my thinking.

  • What still amazes me is how the ad agency pulled this snow job on the client. Did the agency really think this stunt was going to increase sales? Of course not. Is the client really this stupid? Obviously so.

    I’m sure of one thing, though. The agency will win another advertising award for such a “creative” advert. It makes me sick.

  • What I find interesting is how many folks are willing to go down some of these strange roads, but ignore the more practical. I guess it’s easy to get caught up in the bling of the moment. I’ve seen so many sites running around investing in MySpace pages and other presence in the momentary fad, but ignore the value in their own websites, or (better put) in serving their customers first. If you want to participate in this medium, give up on trying to control content and all that, and focus on your customers NEEDS. Ensure the sites you do control have up-to-date and detailed information, have access to the services that your customers want and need. Be transparent; your mother was right, honesty is important. Then let the online community discuss. Not everyone will like you – deal with it! Just don’t give them reasons to hate you.

  • Hector

    Look, I realize BuzzMachine wouldn’t be the same without its torrents of contempt for the “dying gasps” of old media who “just don’t get it”, etc etc etc etc ad nauseam, but this is really just an online ad campaign by a big company based around a currently fashionable theme. Nobody’s suggesting you move your profile from Facebook or MySpace to Pepperidge Farms. Nobody’s suggesting you’re going to seek out the cookie site for all the advice you need about friendship. It’s a clever PR play and it made it to the New York Times, so it’s already been successful on its own terms. And now it’s made it to your blog, also!

  • Hector,

    Honestly, I work in communications and being mocked by bloggers is really not that good for your brand. It makes them seem like idiots. Who wants to eat a cookie made by idiots?

    And, I doubt very much it was a PR play. It really sounds like an ad agency who thinks sticking their client into the latest trend is a good brand strategy. Yikes. It was stuff like this that killed online advertising in the .com bomb days and it’s feeling just a little bit too much like the year 2000 to me (flashback – this could have been the cookie lovers destination site).

    Oh and by the way, the only reason i clicked through from my feedreader to this story was I thought it was about tracking cookies, not edible ones. lol.

  • Hector,

    That is precisely what they are suggesting: that we go to the cookie site to get advice on friendship. And $2-3 million for one PR story would be damned expensive.

  • Their use of Sally Horchow is also really intruiging: maybe people won’t trust cookie-makers with relationship issues, but they will trust the cookie-makers’ spokesperson, a “lifestyle expert.”

  • Brit

    OK, so I’m at least the third person to confess to reading this post thinking it was to be about inedible computer cookies.

    Let me just say I LOVE Pepperidge Farm cookies. But I’d have to have a really bad case of the flu (you know, the kind that makes you exhaust all your desultory fooling around on the internet) to actually visit a cookie “social site.” Bond with friends over cookies? I’d rather eat them all myself (once I’m over the flu, of course!)

  • David

    How about another angle, Jeff? Such as… “60 Year Old Agency Execs Convince 60 Year Old Clients to Part With Their Cash?”

    Seriously Jeff, the people running the marketing departments of many of these companies (not just the agencies) are so far behind the curve, you’d probably explode if you were stuck in a conference room with them. I know I have!

  • Apart from the collective ignorance of the medium, I say hat’s off to the arrogance of the geniuses who determined “..our customers are dumb enough to turn to us for social advice. What a good idea.”

    I’m waiting for the high-end automotive site to tell me how I should vote.

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  • Many years ago I worked on similar touchy-feely direct mail programs at Leo Burnett for Hallmark and then McDonald’s. It quickly became flavor of the month at Leo’s and soon there were similar things for Kellogg’s and various other brands, not to mention imitators elsewhere for things like Saran Wrap.

    The problem was, Hallmark and McDonald’s had insanely loyal fan bases who actually paid attention to this stuff– and owner operators who had a slush fund to help pay for it. You could build a list of a million or two whose local store loyalty was worth the spend. No one cared about cereal, let alone Saran Wrap, that much. (Ironically we did get another client for whom this would have been perfect– the Disney parks– but by then it was no longer flavor of the month at Burnett and so they killed it all and moved on to forcing the next trendy answer down every client’s throat.)

    So anyway, been there, done that. It works for a few brands. Most brands, nobody cares enough about you. Try something else.

  • The umbrage I take to this is not that Pepperidge Farms is trying to lure people onto their social site, it’s that there is really nothing “social” about it, as Toby Bloomberg attests so well.

    Regarding your comment about PF not needing to create a site of their own, but go where people already congregate, I liken that to getting a seat at someone else’s table. It’s necessary to be sure, but how much better to create a table of your own and invite others to join you. You know, a “niche” community.

    Again, the issue here is the decided lack of anything social. PF ought to take Toby’s list of suggestions and implement, and perhaps they should go so far as to hire her to help them… and pay her a boat-load of money while they’re at it!

  • chico haas

    The influx of ad money into Facebook, however deftly it’s done, will make one guy very rich and one Facebook not Facebook anymore. The perception of Facebook users will be “I’m being watched and marketed to.”

  • What does the Pepperidge Farm brand stand for? Cookies? Relationships?

    This is a great example of a site that’s almost entirely about the company and hardly at all about the customer.

    Who comes to a Web site? Computer users. Now imagine if Pepperidge Farm had put tongue in cheek and created a site that was all about the cookies that several people here thought it was about anyway?

    As for the reported cost involved? Egads — it’s like the mid-90s all over again. “Sure, we can build that for you for, oh, $760,000” … ummm, can you sharpen your pencil? … “How about $430,000?”

    And so it goes …

  • Totally agree Jeff. I also expected cookies made into artforms based on the artofthecookie.com domain name, as I discussed here http://www.frontiering.com.au/blog/2007/11/28/cookies-social-crumble/

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