Advertising on Social Media? Seller Beware!

by James Barry

When McDonald’s, arguably the most effective marketer of the past 50 years, thinks that a new marketing tool is effective, other marketers should sit up and take notice. And, in their latest promotion for its new McCafe shakes, the marketing gurus behind the Golden Arches are turning to the power of social media and the potential of social networking.

Marketing Daily reports that, “McDonald’s is employing a cause-related promotion on Foursquare to promote its new McCafe Shake, while Dunkin’ Donuts is running a Twitter-based giveaway to promote a new Big ‘N Toasty Breakfast Sandwich.”

Interestingly, Mickey D’s is not only utilizing social media, but it is also tapping into the burgeoning marketing potential of mobile marketing. During its McCafe Shake “Social Fundraiser” – which is running from March 1 through March 17 in the Philadelphia area– each time a customer at a local McDonald’s who logs onto the Foursquare social networking site and sends his or her check-in to Twitter (@McDPhilly), McDonald’s will make a $1 donation to its renowned Ronald McDonald House charity, and provide the customer with a coupon for a free McCafe Shake.

As virtually any parent will attest, McDonald’s really is the acme of smart advertising. And this latest promotional trial is no exception. By all accounts the McCafe shake – its classic chocolate, vanilla or vanilla shake, served in a clear McCafe cup and topped with whipped cream and a cherry – is likely to pull on the conscience of calorie counters. What better way to assuage the guilt then with a feel-good charitable donation to the kids and families helped by Ronald McDonald House?

Restaurant franchises are responsible for generating a huge amount of business on traditional media channels. Yet, at the International Franchise Associations annual convention (held in Las Vegas, naturally, between February 13th and 16th) the use of social media, together with accessing capital (i.e., how to deal with the fallout from the recent financial crisis) and health-care legislation (How to deal with newly introduced “Obama-care”), was one of the featured topics that the nation’s franchisors and franchisees focused on.

But take caution. For businesses seeking to tap into the rich potential of social media for advertising and product promotion, the adage is not caveat emptor or ‘buyer beware.” Rather, it is caveat emptor or ‘seller beware.’

As Ford Saeks, president and chief executive of ad agency Prime Concepts Group Inc., told the IFA conference, and as reported in trade paper Restaurant News, it is the “social” aspect of social media that needs to be emphasized. “Its social-media networking,” he cautioned, “not social-media selling.”

The McCafe Shake promotion is an excellent example of how social media advertising brings value added content to social media users. It offers not just a product promotion, but affords its social media savvy customers an opportunity to take positive action. It ‘s a step beyond a traditional ad campaigns that may, at most, offer a product discount coupon or free trial.

Pure sell advertising is likely to backfire on social media. Knowing this, the marketers behind the McDonald’s McCafe promotion offer customers not only a free product trial, but they also afford them the opportunity to make a positive contribution to a social cause that is closely intertwined with the McDonald’s brand.

James Barry covers social media marketing for, a Toronto-based search engine optimization frim offering a full product line of SEO services.