Has Social Media Marketing Killed Christmas?

I have been struck this festive season by the number of empty marketing activations that have been erected. All around the developed world you’ll find perfect Instagram locations that for the photo streaming app provide wonderful photo opportunities for families and kids. But that’s where the ‘experience’ ends. The “Frozen” castles, sleighs and, err, bridges (seriously, what’s with the bridges?) along with wintery scenes, giant shiny presents and empty Swiss chalets look great in photographs, but what do they bring to the lives of those people standing in front of them taking photos? Where’s Elsa? Where’s Olaf? Where is the gift inside? It’s flat and one dimensional, only any good for a pretty photo. That is if you can avoid the huge brand logos and the “brought to you by (enter brand here)” banners for your family photo.

But a memory making experience? Nope.

I see the emptiness behind the eyes of the Influencers as they try to engage with an empty space echoed in the eyes of the kids as they come to ‘experience’ what their parents have seen online to find it has been digitally reworked on Instagram with filters that layer sparkles and snow and “fun times.”

My feeling is that brands over-reliance on one single app to share their brand messaging is a dangerous strategy. A brand that brings actual touch-points into who they are and what they do by way of a clever interaction with their target audience will win out. And paradoxically gain real followers who are interested in and engaged with the brand. As opposed to those who follow them because they have to in order to get a scratch card at a Pop Up. Only to “win” 5% off a purchase at said brand.

Is Instagram fun? Yes. Is it a pictorial daily insight into what’s happening inside whichever space you seek to peek? Yes. But brands need to respect it as the platform that it is.

Now don’t get me wrong, I work in this space. But that’s why the concern is real. The proliferation of emptiness bothers me a lot. The Influencers that I work with echo this sentiment. They seek realness and authenticity in the experiences that they share online. Not a vacant pastiche.

Is it the brands that are at fault or social media? Well it’s a two-way street. Brands see the app and the rampant Influencer scene as an easy way to drive traffic to their latest empty experience, and Instagram enables this process by providing the filters that make it seem more fun than it actually is. And don’t get me started on fake followers. That is altogether another article.

Let’s take Lipton Ice Tea as an example of an activation that engaged and resonated with consumers. Lipton hosted a “Rise and Slide” campaign to interact with consumers on their daily commute in London’s King’s Cross. On a hot summer’s morning they installed a 100-metre inflatable slide and encouraged commuters to come and “Rise and Slide” their way to work. It was more than a play on words. The hustle of the daily commute for most Londoners in a hot and sweaty, overcrowded public transport system, followed by queuing for a coffee for their daily caffeine boost is the norm. This activation encouraged a fresh look at the start of the day: How a cold and refreshing tea (and, yes, there were free samples) and a slide on a water slide (OK that’s not sustainable, but… you get the analogy) could give you a fresh start to your day. It was engaging, it was fun and it hit the objectives of making people feel differently about and vibing with the brand.

My thoughts are that if a brand doesn’t have something as good as Lipton, it shouldn’t join the party. They should sit it out until they have something to say.

The sooner that brands craft offline experiences that resonate with real people who then use Instagram for authentic reporting of an engaging activity the better for everyone.