What would Don Draper do?

Advertising, in its most traditional sense, is a one-way medium designed to influence behavior through the thoughtful and creative use of words and images.

Advertising, in its most traditional sense, is a one-way medium designed to influence behavior through the thoughtful and creative use of words and images. So, if the medium is the message, is “advertising” the antonym of “social media?”

Social media must be considered within the broader context of social marketing -- an arena that's the playing field of a variety of communications disciplines. The anti-Goldwater, “Daisy” ad was an early example of social marketing. The ad (shown, famously, only once) started a national conversation. And the interactivity part played out in voting booths across the nation. Harry and Louise are the direct descendants of Miss Daisy.

Social media is, by definition social. Its driving force is interactivity between multitudinous constituencies – the most important being peer-to-peer. Social media requires you to play, not purchase. Remember – the medium is the message. Just how comfortable and capable are you operating in a world where the only constant is change? A brave new world (and a brave new job) where you must constantly update and refine, rethink and revisit, change and challenge your work? And not monthly or weekly or daily – but in real time all the time? Social media has precious few rules (a major headache for pharma, but an inherent truth). Yet, the one golden rule of social media is transparency: 100% transparency. You can't airbrush social media.

As Tom Hanks said in A League of Their Own: "If it was easy, anybody could do it." But it is easy and everybody is doing it. The audience has been given both the permission and the tools to communicate with each other. They don't need advertising any more to learn about anything.

As Don Draper said, “I'm enjoying the story so far, but I have a feeling it's not going to end well.”

Social media is communications at the speed of life. As Marshall McLuhan wrote, “At electric speed, all forms are pushed to the limits of their potential.” That's a wonderful challenge, to be pushed to the limits of our potential. But if you're not ready to do so, it's time to look for another job.

Here's the truth: The days of art director and copywriter, account executive and media buyer are over. The distinctions between advertising and PR are evaporating. Welcome to the dawn of a new era. The time of the social marketer has arrived and social media is the weapon of choice.

Peter J. Pitts is partner/director of global healthcare at Porter Novelli

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