Facebook Advertising: Was GM Was Doing it Wrong?

Everywhere I look today, people are talking about General Motors’ decision to pull its paid advertisements from Facebook. Indeed, $10 million in lost ad revenue sounds like a pretty big deal. And when a corporate giant like General Motors decides that something doesn’t work in terms of marketing, people are going to pay attention.

What I’m yet to find (at least so far) is any discussion about what goals or strategy General Motors set at the start of its Facebook ad campaign. Sure, the company wanted to sell more cars. But was Facebook ever going to be the right space for a hard sell? Or even a soft sell? After all, Forbes tells us that “search ads [not social ads] account for the majority of online ad spending because they produce the greatest return on investment for marketers.”

Can Facebook advertising compete with Google’s search advertising?

I think some distinctions need to be made here.

First, the average internet user is conditioned to ignore advertising. Ads are embedded in the sidebars of their favorite blogs, search result pages, and recipe websites. Ads are interjected between paragraphs in the news stories they read. Yes, search advertising works. However, search space is entirely different from social space.

People visit search engines so they can find information—perhaps price comparisons for cars. People use social networks to connect with other people.

In order to see positive results from Facebook ads or any sort of social media ad campaigns, marketers must be aware of the differences in these spaces. They must also be very mindful of their marketing goals. Business Insider aptly points out:

Search advertising—the kind Google provides—tends to be more effective on customers who are actively doing pre-purchase research. Facebook, on the other hand, is more of an entertainment medium; no one is shopping for cars on Facebook—a fact GM seems to have now learned.

Was General Motors doing it wrong?

Social advertising is a new opportunity, and a company with a marketing budget like General Motors’ would have been crazy to ignore the 900 million-person audience available on Facebook. Even with practical and strategic goals, sometimes a tactic just doesn’t work out.

This doesn’t mean, though, that no company will ever benefit from advertising with Facebook.

The company that is successful with Facebook advertising will be one that understands the social space, and can evaluate whether its marketing goals can be met there. Let’s focus on building communities, on customer service, on long-term customer relationships. None of us will ever be successful by injecting ourselves into places where we don’t fit, and expecting people to behave differently than they do. A huge potential audience does not a successful marketing campaign make.

Related articles:

Forbes: The Real Reasons Why Brands Like GM Still Don’t Like Facebook Advertising

Ad Age: Why Facebook Isn’t Screwed When it Comes to Auto Marketing

NPR: Pizza Delicious Bought an Ad on Facebook. How’d They Do?

Business Insider: General Motors Pulls $10 Million Campaign from Facebook Because Its Ads Don’t Work

5 thoughts on “Facebook Advertising: Was GM Was Doing it Wrong?

  1. Good breakdown of the GM decision to pull Facebook advertising. It seems the $10m ad buy on Facebook was more of an experiment for GM than any part of a sound ad strategy. The company probably did glean some insights from Facebook’s metrics that could pay off for GM in the linger term. Besides, a $10 million ad buy by such a behemoth pales when compared to the money GM pours into television advertising.

    1. Agreed! I hope that people realize that what works for GM is not necessarily what works (or doesn’t) for everyone. Maybe this is the last we’ll hear about it.

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