Marketing in 21st Century: Piece of cake or a headache for businesses?

Ask any entrepreneur who started their business 30 or 40 years ago about their initial marketing strategies.

The options may have been limited back then – Yellowpages, local newspapers, magazines, television etc., although their ability to reach a wide customer base was beyond imagination.
Business owners were content with their broad-angled strategies that enabled them to reach such a wide audience with so little work. Having said that, things were about to change radically for the budding entrepreneurs of the late 20th century as the internet was just around the corner to amaze everyone and change the way everything was done.

Nevertheless, some argue that it was not the internet that brought about a big change in the way marketing strategies were formulated but the social media revolution in fact. Approximately 2 billion people around the world chat, tweet, post, poke or update their status on social media websites. Savvy advertisers and marketing professionals look at these kinds of numbers as gold mines of information. Modern marketing managers naturally fell in love with social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc. as it became incredibly easy to collect all kind of information from these users and adapt their marketing campaigns accordingly. Now marketing campaigns can be heavily targeted and fine-tuned; those broad-angled strategies were a thing of past.


For instance, a car company can send targeted adverts to Facebook timelines and Twitter feeds of users who showed interest in a competitor’s vehicle. Companies insert a “Buy Now” button in their advert that re-directs the customer to their websites to convert just a browsing willing customer into a sale. Users who browsed airline tickets online to the Bahamas are shown discounted tickets on their Facebook pages by other companies. Social media has transformed how marketing departments were once managed and made advertising cheap, quick and focused. However, companies enjoying this marketing frenzy at times seem to forget that perhaps not all customers are interested and actually may despise this invasion of their privacy.

In 2015, BMW decided to use WeChat (equivalent of WhatsApp in China with approximately 550 million users) for their advertising campaign in China. The adverts for their new models were only displayed to the users whose profiles suggested they come from an affluent background. Other users were shown more affordable products such as smartphones and flat screen TVs. A lot of people found this strategy offensive and started complaining on social media platforms and argued if they were Diao (Chinese for a Looser). This shows that targeted advertising might be tempting but companies need to open their eyes to the possibility of over-targeting their adverts.

Hashtags are becoming the next big thing in online marketing universe and using them strategically could turn an average advert into a viral internet sensation. DiGiorno, a US based frozen pizza company wanted to do just that but their strategy backfired. The marketing managers at DiGiorno noticed that #WhyIStayed was trending on social media platforms and quickly decided to send a funny tweet saying: They stayed for Pizza #WhyIStayed. As it turned out, the particular hashtag was actually used for domestic violence and why women stayed in abusive relationships. The next time DiGiorno used Twitter, it was to apologise.

In the face of number of cases as the ones mentioned above, social media advertising is still the most favourite among marketing managers. With the rise of social media platforms, one may argue that the popularity of traditional advertising channels such as television has plummeted. Although every time businesses consider using online advertising, cases of BMW and DiGiorno need to be remembered. Even if companies somehow manage to come across as less intrusive and pushy in their adverts, there is definitely a threshold to how much advertising can be shifted to social media platforms. Televisions still remain one of the costliest channels of advertising and there is a reason behind it – the potential to reach a wide audience with a simple message. Like everything in life – perhaps marketing strategies also need to be well-balanced and in moderation.