Social Media Makes It Easy

Matthew Willcox, in his new book, The Business of Choice: Marketing to Consumers’ Instincts, describes an experiment in marketing and social media. Participants were given £50, which is about $76 as of this writing, and asked to divide the money up among three charities. Participants were shown ads for all three charities, and they could adjust their allocations of the money as they watched the ads.

The ads were of four different types, shown randomly:

  • a simple banner ad
  • a social media ad using social proof (your friends are doing this)
  • a social media ad using affinity (people like you are doing this)
  • a social media ad using celebrity (a fmous person is doing this)

Oh, and the participants were hooked up to an EEG machine at the time.

This may not be a typical set-up replicating natural ad responses, but it eliminates some of the variables. People had to give away money, they were actually paying attention to the ads, and they were not distracted by other messages.

Here’s what the researchers saw, in terms of donations:

  • The simple banner ad got the least attention and stimulated the smallest donations.
  • Social proof ads got the highest attention and the highest donations.
  • Affinity ads got low attention, but medium donations.
  • Celebrity ads got high attention, but medium donations.

The EEG machine got evidence of how much attention people paid to the ads, and confirmed that attention doesn’t always correlate with action, even when people aren’t spending their own money.

But there was also information about how hard people thought while they made those donations, as well as how much attention they paid to the ads. Donations made in response to social proof and affinity ads — the ones that say, “Your friends or people like you are donating to this cause” — required less brain power to make donation decisions. Those were, almost literally, a no-brainer for the participants.

People who made donations in response to celebrity ads or plain banner ads rather than social media messages had to put a lot more thought into making those donations.

So people who saw the social media messages using social proof paid more attention when they were reading the ad, but they didn’t need to pay much attention to the process of giving money to the charity; their minds were made up and it was easy for them. They gave more, too.

That’s the state of mind you’d want your customers to be in when they read your ads and make decisions about buying from or donating to you, isn’t it?

Those who saw the banner ads didn’t pay much attention and didn’t give much money, and their brains had to work harder when they did make donations. It was a struggle for them to allocate money to the charity.

Celebrity pitches in social media got plenty of attention, but people struggled with the donation and didn’t give as much as they did for social proof ads.

As consumers increasingly ignore and distrust ads, it makes sense to put resources into the kinds of ads that get the best results. And that might be the ads that make it easy for your audience to pay attention and to make an investment.


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