The Dark Side of Social Media Marketing

Social networks have become integral components of daily life, at least to those that have access to the Internet. From sharing pictures of vacations and chatting with friends to engaging in professional networking, the uses of websites, such as Facebook and Twitter, are constantly evolving and expanding. In 2013 Facebook had approximately 1,230 million monthly users, which represents roughly 11% of the world’s population. As people have herded to social media sites, corporations have followed. Recognizing the multiple possibilities of social media to directly approach consumers, businesses have developed the concept of “social media marketing,” which refers to the “utilization of social media technologies, channels, and social software to create, communicate, deliver, and exchange offerings that have value for organizational stakeholders.” (Tuten, Angermeier, 69)  This marketing technique has proven to be very efficient and this is a statement that is backed up by the thousands of articles and research available to praising this practice. However, a subject that is not as frequently discussed are the negative consequences associated with social media marketing. A recent observational research performed by scholars Tracy Tuten and William Angermeier from East Carolina University “postulates the negative utilities associated with social media and social media marketing for the two primary stakeholders involved: individuals and brands” (70).  The following paper will explore Tuten and Angermeier’s research while also providing additional real-life examples to support their postulations.

In the paper entitled “Before and Beyond the Social Moment of Engagement: Perspectives on the Negative Utilities of Social Media Marketing,” scholars Tracy Tuten and William Angermeier present their claims regarding the negative utilities of social media marketing for both individuals as well as businesses. The authors’ postulations are the results of their own research, which was carried out by observing the interactions of several personal and business accounts on different social media platforms. That being said, this research was exclusively observational, yet the findings are still quite valid and worth considering.

Among the many negative consequences that social media marketing can bring to consumers, Tuten and Angermeier listed “security breaches and loss of privacy” (71) as their number one concern. The authors emphasized that the usual social network user is not aware of how much of their personal information they willingly publicize by engaging with these websites and how corporations may use this information “for behavioral targeting to serve advertising as users surf the Internet.” (71) Many people may not recognize the harm in behavioral targeting; however, this technique is often a subject of controversy as many people see it as an invasion of privacy. One incident that perfectly exemplifies how damaging this practice can be is the one illustrated by the New York Times journalist Charles Duhigg in his famous article “How Companies Learn Your Secrets.” Duhigg wrote that through a “pregnancy prediction model” developed by the store Target, which utilized all sorts of personal information (drawn anywhere from consumers’ credit cards to their social media profiles after they had engaged in anyway with the store) to target soon to be moms with coupons and advertisements earlier than any other stores. As a consequence, the father of a teenage consumer found out through Target coupons that his daughter had been secretly pregnant.


One of the highlights of Tuten and Angermeier’s study is the focus on the brand or company’s implications upon using social media as a marketing tool, which individuals seldom think of.  These negative consequences brought up by social media marketing are usually uncontrolled by the companies themselves, meaning if the companies receive negative or poor reviews online (via Yelp, Google Reviews etc.) it could be a definite hindrance in terms of revenue.  Tuten and Angermeier postulate these cause and effect narratives that come to target the brand and individual directly.  Since companies have no legal control over the personal information posted on behalf of the sharing public via social media (which may include employees) it is a murky area over what is acceptable behavior online.  Another problem that could arise according to the authors is the fear of losing stored data via social media sites.  Given the circumstances, individuals may or may not be aware they give up many of their legal rights to personal content posted via social media.

“In 2012, several social media sites, including LinkedIn,, and e-Harmony, all experienced security breaches.” (Tuten, Angermeier, 74)  The fine line between something intangible (social media) becomes very tangible as one’s personal data is at the hands of third party.  Recently, Target also experienced a similar hacking issue last fall pertaining to credit card usage.  In order to gain back customer loyalty Target took to social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to announce 10% off entire purchases the weeks following the breach.  This situation might be viewed as both a positive and negative aspect of social media marketing.  The authors also references alternative company fail social media campaigns, McDonald’s being at the crux of the more recent backlash.  In an effort to promote a new addition to the menu, McDonald’s asked the Twitterverse to share their beloved McDonald memory using #McDstories.  The campaign failed as users were posting their negative experiences with the company, McDonald’s soon backed out of promoting this option.  Recently, there has been a steady rise in the use of this tagging or hashtag culture directly involving social media.  Some might equate the hashtag as “free” advertising on behalf of the individual every time they use their social media handles.  On the other hand, following the McDonald’s trajectory #mydunkinstory pertaining to Dunkin’ Donuts has also received some backlash in terms of causing a tension between its rival coffee house – Starbucks, producing this DD vs. Starbucks tug of war.

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Granted, companies have indeed caught on in the importance of advertising via social media sites, there is a high risk when promoting a marketing strategy that is uncertain.  When consumers’ reviews become well “liked”, shared, or retweeted it could be for the benefit or hindrance of the product or brand itself.  Tuten and Angermeier aim to highlight some of these negative aspects when social marketing campaigns go south, and the negative effects of solely relying on consumer reviews.  According to the authors, “The negative consequences of social media and social media marketing are largely associated with the post-consumption period” (75).  Whether in agreement or not, there will always be manufacturers, providers, and consumers companies are putting their own image at risk when relying on social media to advertise for them.


In general social media marketing has brought many benefits to both individuals as well as businesses. However, it is important to keep in mind that these benefits also come along with many not so positive consequences. Tuten and Angermeier’s research is both timely and socially significant for it touches upon an issue to which most of us as media consumers are vulnerable to.

Works Cited:

Tuten, Tracy, and William Angermeier. “Before and Beyond the Social Moment of Engagement: Perspectives on the Negative Utilities of Social Media Marketing.” Gestion 2000 30.3 (2013).




Women, we can do it! Corporations say so!

We ladies have come a long way; women can now vote, get a college degree and even get on birth control…we are on top of the world! Well, not really, according to a U.S census women earn just 77 percent of what men earn and despite our “progressive” times women are still treated as second-class citizens in many aspects of life. Therefore, the feminist discourse is still very relevant, and for better or worse corporations are aware of this. From banks to car manufacturers to beauty companies, all types of businesses are jumping on the feminist bandwagon, empowering female consumers one ad at a time. From a distance this phenomenon might seem positive, after all, what’s the harm in boosting women’s self esteem? However, when a social movement’s ideals are adopted as marketing tools the message gets diluted and lost in the vast sea of capitalism. Through the analysis of several advertising campaigns from beauty and fashion companies, such as Cover Girl, I aim to demonstrate how big corporations take advantage of the feminist discourse as a way of generating profit while associating misleading messages to the cause.

The commodification of feminism in ads targeting women is by no means a recent phenomenon, “since the early 1970’s, advertisers have tried to connect the value and meaning of women’s emancipation to corporate products.” (Goldman et al 335) Advertisements that feed on feminist rhetoric usually portray “real” women doing things that are not considered feminine by the status quo. These women are generally slightly bigger than the typical model and have diverse racial backgrounds. Also, images are usually advertised as being unretouched and tend to highlight minor flaws such as stretchmarks or scars. Along with these real women comes the narrative that tells women that they are all beautiful and that they can do anything they want. Usually these messages have a feel-good tone and do not go into an in-depth analysis of the problem for as Johnson and Taylor have noted in their assessment of Dove’s Real Beauty campaign, “a more radical critique might negatively affect sales by alienating women who are emotionally invested in beauty ideology and/or promote a kind of self-acceptance not contingent on beautification and commodification.” (962)

The “Girls Can” campaign by Cover Girl is a great example of how beauty companies target their niches through the idea of self-empowerment. The advertisement, which aired during this year’s Winter Olympics, features an impressive roster of female celebrities including Ellen DeGeneres, Katy Perry, Pink and ice hockey player Natalie Wiebe. The ad begins with the women listing a series of things that according to society girls can’t do then they turn the message around stating that girls can in fact do all these things and more. The ad closes with Ellen saying “make the world a little more easy, breezy and beautiful”

Another ad that endorses a similar message comes from a Pantene campaign that ran in the Philippines. The ad visually portrays double standards that women face on a daily basis. For instance, while a man is a seen as a boss, a woman doing the exact same thing is considered to be bossy and when a man works late, he is dedicated while his female counterpart is seen as selfish. The ad wraps up with the phrase “Don’t let labels hold you back, be strong and shine” followed by Pantene’s logo and a hashtag that says WHIPIT.

While, one could possibly argue that in fact both of these advertisements are promoting a positive message it is important to remember the purpose of these ads, which, in the long run is to sell a product, rather than to help alleviate gender inequalities. Additionally, aside from masquerading their true intentions, these types of marketing campaigns also help promote problematic ideologies. Following Goldman and Papson’s pointers of how advertisements carry ideologies; these advertisements do so by first of all constructing a world in which the beauty industry instead of nurturing from women’s insecurity and society’s rigid beauty standards is instead an ally to women. Also, these ads disguise bigger injustices women face due to gender inequality, such as wage gaps and other problems that can’t be solved with mascara or shampoo. Additionally, these ads promote a normative vision of world, in which consumption somehow leads to equality, thus promoting the logic of capital.

If I were to create a spoof mocking these types of advertisement I would probably have a “real” woman, someone whose looks are very far from conventional beauty standards, attend a job interview for a position in a field such as science or technology. The interviewer would be a man, who would look at the woman’s impressive resume but still decides to hire the other interviewee who happens to be a man. The woman would come out of the office and say something like “I don’t get it! I am wearing mascara; I thought I could do anything!”

Beauty companies that target their niche markets through commodity feminism are problematic for they deceive their consumers into believing that through the consumption of their products they will attain gender equality. Furthermore, they help degenerate the discourse of a valuable social movement that has faced multiple setbacks throughout history.


Semiotic and Creative Revolution Analysis: Cadillac’s Poolside

One of the industries that was affected most radically by the so-called Creative Revolution was the automobile industry; after all, the revolution itself began with DDB’s 1959 Volkswagen ad. As Thomas Frank points out in Advertising as Cultural Criticism, “in 1950’s ads, cars were posed next to jetfighters and radar dishes along with empty phrases and meaningless neologisms, announcing cars with ‘radical new Turbo-Thrust engines’.” (61) Hence, automobile ads were typically seen as obnoxious and were often the target of criticism, as consumers grew more and more skeptical of the auto industry. However, this all changed as soon as Bill Bernbach and the Creative Revolution came into the picture. Through the analysis of Cadillac’s 2014 Poolside ad I intend to demonstrate the impact the Creative Revolution has had on contemporary advertisement and how this ad in specific is a byproduct of this phenomenon. Additionally, I will analyze the ideological conventions engrained within this ad by utilizing Goldman and Papson’s Advertising in the Age of Accelerated Meaning as a guide.

‪The ad, entitled Poolside, is for Cadillac’s 2014 ELR model. The ad features actor Neal McDonough and it opens up with him standing in front of a pool holding a newspaper and reflecting out loud on the purpose of hard work. The actor then strolls by the pool and enters a house in which two girls are found sitting in a living room, one of them studying and the other one using a tablet. Then he enters the kitchen where he is met by a woman, to whom he hands in the newspaper. Next, the man enters a room and comes out in a grey suit and heads back outside where he boards a car after unplugging it from a cord that connects to the house; all of this is done while he carries on with his reflection on hard work. This ad, even though only one minute and two seconds long is quite rich in terms of signs. The pool, the house and the car are all signifiers that in this case carry the signifieds of wealth and luxury. Additionally, the two girls and the woman can be interpreted as his family. Hence, the denotative meaning of this ad is of a man with a nuclear family who has worked hard in order to achieve his wealth (including, of course, his Cadillac).

This ad is a very dense commodity sign for it attaches the values of hard work, nuclear family and Americaness to Cadillac’s brand. Thus, this ad is not only selling a car, it is also selling an ideology and lifestyle. When the actor explains that Americans are different because “we’re crazy driven, hard working believers” and then lists a series of famous people such as the Wright brothers and Bill Gates, it is attempting to equate the brand to these people by appropriating and recontextualizing the meanings that are already attached to these personalities.  Therefore, consumers can assume that if they work hard enough and buy a Cadillac they’ll be able to live a luxurious and successful life. The main problem with this ad is that it promotes an unfeasible ideology. By creating this unrealistic world in which anyone can be successful the ad completely ignores the fact that in reality there are a lot of injustices and inequality that limit most people from living up to this ideology and in the end it simply reflecting and perpetuating the logic of capital.

This ad is a very interesting example of the legacy left behind by the Revolution. One could say it is actually the opposite of what Bernbach did, for it does not rely on counterculture to make its sales pitch, in the contrary, it is selling consumers the very right-winged, conservative value of hard-work-leads-to-success A.K.A the American Dream. Yet, this ad is very much a product of the Creative Revolution. From a stylistic perspective it portrays some of the most unique characteristics of the Revolution. For instance, it is quite minimalistic, as it is not cluttered with different product claims and it only mentions the product at the very end of the commercial. Thus, this ad is actually quite elegant, as far as ads go, and its script is indeed witty like most of the ads modeled after the Revolution. Also, the ad’s message of “work hard and then you might own a Cadillac” is actually quite straightforward and one could go as far as to say that it is promoting self power and that it is inciting consumers to rebel against conformity through hard work.

Cadillac’s Poolside is a great example of how the Creative Revolution has shaped contemporary advertisement. Ads are now more creative and entertaining than ever before. However, as noted through the previous analysis, it is important to note that they are also more persuading and powerful. Advertising is not only a reflection of our society it is also a force that shapes and structures the meanings we attach to virtually anything in our lives. Therefore, consumers should always take ads’ messages with a grain of salt, regardless of how seemingly honest they may seem, they are still trying to sell you something.


Historical Analysis: AT&T TV Commercial – It’s Not Complicated “Werewolf”

This commercial is part of AT&T’s “It’s Not Complicated” campaign. The campaign features a series of advertisements in which kids, mostly under the age of 10, sit around a table with an actor named Beck Bennet who interviews them. Bennet’s questions are as simple as ‘what is better to have more or to have less?’ The premise of the campaign is that even children can comprehend why AT&T is better than the rest of its competitors; hence, “it’s not complicated.”

This ad along with the rest of the AT&T campaign is a great example of contemporary TV advertisement. Nowadays, we are being constantly bombarded with thousands and thousands of ads; thus, it has become increasingly challenging for advertisers to promote goods to savvy and often wary costumers who have learned to ignore classic sales tactics. As an alternative, advertisers have turned to other, less blatant, techniques for promoting their products, some of which are utilized in this AT&T commercial.  The most evident of the techniques being employed in this ad is the so-called soft sale. As the term implies, the advertiser utilizes a very subtle and friendly approach, in this case the product is not mentioned until the very end of the commercial. Another technique used in this commercial is wit and humor. When advertisers successfully entertain consumers through funny or witty commercials, such as this one, they transform the usually obnoxious and always unavoidable task of watching advertisements into an enjoyable activity. As a consequence of being entertained, consumers will most likely remember and perhaps even talk about the commercial later on. Lastly, the use of a catchphrase (It’s not complicated!) is very well utilized in this ad and the overall campaign. The phrase is short and catchy and is always uttered by the same spokesperson whose voice can easily resonate in the minds of consumers.

In regards to its informational function, I believe the ad does comply, but only to a certain extent. The ad does not offer much detail regarding the good being advertise, which, in this case is AT&T’s 4G LTE network for iPhone 5. When thinking about this campaign in general, I can easily remember it being AT&T’s; however, the fact that it is advertising the 4G LTE network is not quite as memorable. As for its transformative function, I actually do not believe this ad possesses one. I do not think consumer’s social values nor their attitudes are affected by this campaign.

While examining this commercial within a larger historical context it becomes very easy to situate it within a specific timeframe in history. This is obviously a recent ad, and the characteristics that make this commercial so obviously contemporary are very specific. Starting with the above-mentioned tactics (soft sale, the use of humor, etc.), the use of these techniques allows us to differentiate this commercial from a commercial, for instance, from the depression era, in which, the use of hard sale and sensationalism were the norm. Additionally, this commercial is promoting a technology that is very specific to our times, for it did not exist a decade ago and it will most likely not be the same within ten years. Thus, we can think of this advertisement as a soon-to-be historical artifact.

AT&T TV Commercial – It’s Not Complicated “Werewolf”

This commercial is part of AT&T’s “It’s Not Complicated” campaign. The campaign features a series of advertisements in which kids, mostly under the age of 10, sit around a table with an actor named Beck Bennet who interviews them. Bennet’s questions are as simple as ‘what is better to have more or to have less?’ The premise of the campaign is that even children can comprehend why AT&T is better than the rest of its competitors; hence, “it’s not complicated.”

What made this commercial, and the rest that form part of the campaign, so memorable to me was the spontaneity of the children. After doing a bit of research on the campaign I learned that most of the children’s dialogues were not scripted and that most of the children were not actors, thus I became even more impressed with the quality of the advertisements. I think this is a very solid campaign because it accomplishes the purpose of selling the product while delighting the audience with funny and cute advertisements that stick around the viewers’ mind.

Nonetheless, from a moral point of view, I do find the use of children a bit problematic. Whenever I come across advertisements with either semi naked women or children I can’t help feeling a bit angered. The fact that advertising agencies take advantage of children’s innocence or objectify women in the name of profit is certainly frustrating even while I can certainly appreciate ads as a form of art that require a lot creativity.

Lia M-S.