Facebook unleashed SocialAds this month, calling it the beginning of a revolutionary, hundred-year era in advertising that will see the end of untargeted messages in mass media. If the revolution is upon us, allow me to submit the lowly search ad as the true revolutionary. For unlike social ads and most other types of advertising, search is something people want rather than something that gets in the way.
Consider what Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg told us about the transformation: "We are announcing a new advertising system, not about broadcasting messages, about getting into the conversations between people."
"Getting into" conversations. Yes, how we enjoy that. You're in a coffee shop talking with a friend, and suddenly along comes the spokesperson for an artificial sweetener, just wanting to have a chat.
To be fair, Facebook doesn't intend to interrupt conversations so bluntly. It hopes one of those friends who likes a particular artificial sweeter may recommend it to the other. The trusted referral is indeed a holy grail, and Facebook will offer a new way to build word-of-mouth.
But how did that friend find the sweetener in the first place? What comes first -- word-of-mouth or the egg? At some point, a new product has to hatch, and those old-school brand-building channels probably will always play a crucial role.
Search offers a key way for new products to emerge and be spread around. People turn to search for solutions -- ways to enjoy coffee without the calories or local coffeehouses to try. If you're not visible in search, perhaps you won't generate word-of-mouth as easily, if at all.
Search isn't revolutionary for aiding word-of-mouth, however. It's revolutionary for not "getting into" or in the way of anything. People turn to search when they have particular desires and need particular solutions. They aren't just generally interested in something, as they jot down on a Facebook profile page in few minutes: "coffee, fine dining, friendship." They need a coffee-machine repair service right now, dammit! And they're typing that into a search engine looking for anyone who can help. Advertisers in search aren't hoping they'll be less in the way than in other forms of media. Advertisers in search are eagerly sought solutions.