Dave Dye: Why aren't we making more likeable ads?
A view from Dave Dye

Dave Dye: Why aren't we making more likeable ads?

J Walter Thompson's Dave Dye recalls the early days of Facebook brand pages and how he learned to be more likeable.

In 2007 Facebook opened their pages to brands. The following year they allowed advertisers to reference them.

Shortly after it was law to end your ad with some form of "Join us at Facebook".

Mine was for Rowse Honey.

Honey is honey, it’s not made by companies, it’s made by bees, so we felt focusing on the honey risked a response of "yes, must get some honey…cheap own brand from my local supermarket."

So we focused on the company.

They were a quirky, charming company so we tried to bottle that vibe by getting them to make their own ads. (They still paid us.)

We organized a huge all staff company picnic where their employees were divided into groups to write, act and direct their own homemade ads.  

We filmed the whole process and turned it into an ad that was a bit like a Channel 4 trailer, ending with "Vote for which should be aired on national TV at our Facebook page."

We were early in using Facebook in this way so anxious as to whether anybody would vote.

We checked the "likes" daily.

The client pops over at the end of the first week:

"Seen the Facebook numbers?"

"Yeahhhh" I say, feeling a bit guilty.


"Yeahhhh" I say, shuffling my feet.

"Amazing isn’t it!"

She didn’t cartwheel around the agency, but if we’d had longer corridors she would’ve.

30,000?  That’s only 0.5% of the people who’d seen the ad. Not to say a miniscule percentage of potential honey munchers.

Why was "liking" so good anyway? It didn’t make Rowse one cent.

We watched the "likes" come in over the next two weeks. (We ended up with about 60,000.)

It was addictive to get such instant feedback. Also, people were "liking" our idea.

Since then I’ve watched the smart brands switch from using social media as simply another channel to bung advertising messages to something more like a sponsored channel, where what followers will like is more important than what the company may want to say.

It makes sense, who doesn’t want people to  "like" their brand?

One of the great things about social media is that the public tell you exactly what they like and don’t like every single day.

Pretty soon you realize it’s pointless putting out dubious product claims, self-indulgent nonsense about the manufacturing process or bland happy people smiling whist simultaneously holding a product.

The way to really pile up the likes is make them laugh, inspire them or show them things they haven’t seen.

Or kittens.

This understanding ensures a steady stream of "likes" keep coming in.

It may not be ideal, but it’s smarter to give people something with a hint of message they’ll like than something all message they’ll ignore.

So why behave differently in traditional media?

If you try to argue for one TV ad over another on the grounds that the public will like it more, there’s a good chance you’ll be escorted from the room.

But why is being ignored on TV, posters, press or radio more acceptable than being ignored online?
Why not be liked?

Yet ad breaks, magazines and billboards are filled with dubious product claims, self-indulgent nonsense about the manufacturing process or bland happy people smiling whilst simultaneously holding a product. 

Stuff that we know for a fact would be ignored if we measured it, i.e. put it online.

It kind of makes me wish traditional media had like buttons on them too. It might force us to create more likeable ads.

Dave Dye is the head of art and design at J Walter Thompson. He writes the blog Huge Generalisations for Campaign