Is advertising on Facebook better than TV?

This morning I received this interesting question in the mail:

Cadbury’s Social Media Manager claims a 7% sales increase in single Creme Egg sales over Easter after shifting from TV to Facebook (paid for and community management). Knowing that Facebook Fans are heavier buyers, do you know how they achieved such sales success?

My immediate reaction is that this is like medical stories of someone eating something [snake oil, placebo, vitamin C....whatever] and then feeling healthier. If it’s an outcome like cancer going into remission then it might feature on Oprah, but no sane medical practitioner will give the incident any credence because it’s an uncontrolled experiment, just one time, and with a single patient. I recall one claim of someone receiving an electric shock after a snake bite and being ‘cured’. When the story was investigated it was found that the man only thought he might have been bitten by a snake, all studies afterwards showed that electric shocks do NOT cure snake bite poisoning.

The story here looks very similar. Cadbury took a bit of their Creme Egg advertising money out of TV and put it into Facebook, after two years of dud campaigns (20% sales drop in 2011 and a further 19% in 2012) they posted a small improvement (up 7% from this now reduced sales level). So that’s one brand, in an uncontrolled experiment, in a market where there are a million other things going on that affect sales. Personally I’d be much more likely to put the effect down to the new creative than to Facebook.

Over the years I’ve seen many studies that claim that taking a bit of money out of one (large) medium and putting it into another (smaller medium) produces great results. These ‘research studies’ are usually paid for by that smaller medium. John Philip Jones used to explain them by saying that the first dollars you spend in any media are the most effective, so if you reduce your TV budget slightly you are taking out the least effective dollars, so spending them to another medium has a good chance of being effective. Maybe. It makes particular sense for a seasonal campaign like Cadbury Creme Eggs where you can quickly end up buying a lot of (less effective) frequency, hitting the same people on much the same evening, on TV. But just as likely explanation is that the result is a fluke, an untrustworthy piece of evidence.

And, of course, we don’t know what might have been achieved if they had just scheduled their TV better. Most advertisers do a terrible job, blowing money hitting people multiple times in single evenings. They could easily increase the effectiveness of their TV spend.

I couldn’t help but notice this line in the article:

As a result, this ‘Smell like a Crème Egg’ post was one of a number of posts that was promoted using news feed ads. It reached a natural audience of 188,000, but paid media helped it to reach 1.45m people.

Certainly this fits with the research in Karen’s new book ‘Viral Marketing:the science of sharing’. There is no such thing as a free lunch, and nothing drives social media exposure like paid-for advertising in big media like TV, radio and print.

As Cadbury put it “Facebook doesn’t just have to be a deep engagement platform for an audience it can be something that broadcasts an engaging marketing message en masse.” For a fee of course.

Finally it’s hard to trust the ROI research mentioned in the article. Comparing purchase intent among groups who recall exposure in different media is fraught with bias. People who recall both TV and Facebook exposures tend to be far heavier users of the brand so have higher purchase intentions (with or without the advertising).

In short, claims that one medium is more sales effective than another are simplistic. For the simple minded. And a single study shows nothing.

PS The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is an independent research institute of the University of South Australia. We are financially supported by Mondelez (Cadbury) and a number of its competitors, but we stay very independent, free to critique.

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6 thoughts on “Is advertising on Facebook better than TV?

  1. All good caveats. It’s also possible that, at this point in evolution, relative pricing may be different for different platforms — i.e. we might we looking at a simple reach-and-frequency effect.

  2. Useful clarity and post. If social media is to take positive lessons out of this it is that sufficient reach and ‘high arousal’ creative is what it needs to focus on and quite possibly as part of a media mix.

  3. Is this a typo?

    “PS The Ehrenberg-Bass Institute is financially supported by Mondelez (Cadbury) and many of its competitors. We are an independent research institute of the University of South Australia.”

  4. Read Keller Fay’s “Face to face”to get more of a perspective on this topic. Keller Fay are a highly credible research outfit. Some outtakes
    Large percentage of WOM, 50%+ is driven by accompanying creative/media/other marketing efforts.
    Social is important, however is often exaggerated/misunderstood. The vast majority of WOM messages are shared face to face.

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