Jon Thomas
Jon Thomas
Communications Director

What’s the ROI in That?

There seems to be no better time of year for brands to empty their pockets and slap their logos everywhere they can in hopes of gaining exposure than the end of the calendar year. Between the New Year’s Eve televised specials, holiday parades, college football bowl games, sponsored parties, Times Square billboards, Super Bowl commercials and more, the in-your-face advertising is literally unavoidable. 

This type of advertising is nothing new. It’s something we’ve lived with for decades and it expands further with each passing year. But the age we live in now, the post-advertising age, has provided audiences with a bit of perspective. The stadium sponsorships, Super Bowl commercials, Times Square billboards—it all seems a little…funny, doesn’t it?   

What’s the joke?

The humor, at least from my perspective as someone who works for a brand storytelling agency rooted in digital and social media, is in the fact that we’ll see each of dozens of brands happily invest nearly $4 million for a 30-second Super Bowl spot yet wonder if a $500k spend on a yearlong social media effort is worth it.

“Where’s the ROI in social media?” they ask after signing the $3.6 million check for that digital billboard at One Times Square. Just think of the foot traffic that will pass by, see the billboard and just run out to buy the product or set the DVR right then and there to watch the show! 

I’m being facetious, of course. Any brand with the budget to advertise in Times Square or during the Super Bowl surely has invested in some sort of post-advertising presence. But when I see such a grand investment in forms of traditional advertising, particularly display media, that can promise only potential reach, and such trepidation regarding the adoption of new forms of advertising (a.k.a. post-advertising) that offer deep analytics, I can’t help but wonder where the justice is.                        

The ROI of Social Media

My intention is not to wander down the rabbit hole that is the argument over whether it’s possible to measure the ROI of social media. In certain places the subject is black and white, and other places it’s gray. But let us not forget that it’s rooted in a digital platform on which technology exists to record a wide variety of data points. 

Using Facebook as an example, there may be an argument to be had over how to accurately calculate the value of a Like, but there are insights that expose who your audience is, where they’re from, what content resonates with them, when they are active and much more. Paid media on Facebook can be measured—and thus it can be determined which creative and copy work best—as well as targeted through a variety of demographics. All these interactions are caught in a moment of time and stored for brands to collect, measure against and refer to months or years later. 

Compare this with the laughable immeasurableness of the reach of a billboard. How can a brand know how many people saw it? Of that, how many took action? Why does nobody care?

A Fair Shake

Only those vested in creating engaging social media experiences for brands realize that calculating return on investment isn’t just a stubborn demand by a curmudgeonly CMO. It’s a valid request, for something that all agencies should be able to properly monitor and measure. But isn’t it about time that traditional advertising faced the same skepticism among budget holders? Wouldn’t it be nice finally to figure out if the millions of dollars spent on traditional, interruptive display media are worth the investment? 

Do you think there’s a double standard? Why are the mediums treated differently?

Image via Flickr