Robert McDonald, CEO of Proctor & Gamble, made headlines this month when he announced to Wall Street that “social media is free” — apparently as a defense for firing 1,600 marketing and other non-manufacturing workers.
“In the digital space, with things like Google and Facebook, the return on investment of the advertising, (1) when properly designed, (2) when the big idea is there, (3) can be much more efficient. One example is our Old Spice campaign, where (4) we had 1.8 billion free impressions.”
A closer look at his statement, however, reveals four glaring flaws in his thinking.
1) Nothing “properly designed” is free. Social media efforts take time and talent to create and well-constructed networks of (sometimes) thousands of people to take root. P&G’s social media channel is no more free to operate than are their sales or distribution networks.
2) No “big idea” is free. Sure, it’s easy to sell Knicks tickets NOW. But big ideas, from Jared Fogel to Jeremy Lin, require some risk and investment upfront before they can be spread in any media, including online.
3) Yes, social media “can be” more efficient – but efficient doesn’t mean free. A Toyota Prius can be more efficient to drive, but you still have to buy one and fill it up BEFORE you can save money on its operation.
4) The Old Spice campaign was the opposite of “free”. It was launched via a massive television buy, was produced with world-class advertising agency, production and talent expense, and was supported by what one analyst called, “a forest of buy-one-get-one-free coupons”.
True, the Old Spice campaign was a masterful effort that re-defined the brand and deftly utilized special media. But to suggest that it garnered 1.8 billion free impressions blatantly misrepresents the magnitude of their investment and their well-deserved return.