Does Social media marketing mean the end of traditional advertising?

The use of social media marketing is increasing rapidly among companies (King. et al., 2014). Much attention is paid to social media’s role in the marketing mix, not least in relation to traditional media (LaPointe, 2011). LaPointe (2011) states that it’s becoming more popular with marketing strategies that rely entirely on online tactics. At the same time, many marketers are still unsure of how to go about this ocean of platforms and opportunities called social media, as pointed out by DeMers ( and Hanna et al. (2011). Let us therefore have a look at what research has to say about social- versus traditional media! Could it be that companies are too quick with planning the funeral of conventional advertising?

What Social Media Marketing can do to your brand.

Social media has the ability to quickly spread Word Of Mouth or WOM “consumer-to- consumer brand communication” (Kozinets et al., 2010 in Colliander and Dahlén, 2011, p. 314) to a massive number of people. The more WOM, the higher is the consumer reach and awareness, which leads to higher sales (Liu, 2006 in King et al., 2014). With social media and eWOM, consumers are influenced not only by friends and family, but also by ‘weak ties’ (p. 170), meaning people outside of their closest spheres (King et al., 2014). Research further shows that eWOM has an impact on consumer engagement, trust, loyalty and willingness to pay. For companies, this means that they can charge a higher price and benefit from more sales. (King et al., 2014).

Colliander and Dahléns’ (2011) posted an identical brand message in two different media channels, where blogs represented social media and online magazines represented traditional media, to measure differences. The blog posts resulted in “higher brand attitudes and purchase intentions” for the brand than did the magazines (p. 313).  The authors attributed the result to blogs’ ability to generate so-called ‘para-social interaction' (p. 314), where readers experience that there is a reader-writer relationship (Horton and Wohl, 1956 in Colliander and Dahlén, 2011). However, sender credibility and transparency proved to be more important in social- than traditional media.

According to King et al., (2014) social media makes it possible to create engagement and they refer to Blazevic et al. (2013) when stating that this is fundamental for ”sustainable competitive advantage, profitability, and gaining consumer loyalty” (King et al., 2014, p. 171). In addition, consumers choose which brands to follow in social media, why the exposure to advertising is on their own terms. This can be compared to traditional media and unwanted advertising, which can cause irritation. (Armelini and Villanueva, 2011). Armelini and Villanueva (2011) also point to the trustworthiness that comes with social networks, where a recommendation from a friend knocks out traditional advertising in terms of credibility. Moreover, social media makes it possible for companies to interfere and interact in brand conversations, thereby influencing the direction of a discussion (Armelini and Villanueva, 2011).

Then there is of course one of the most common arguments for choosing social media over traditional advertising: costs. Conventional advertising is expensive, social platforms are not. Right? Well, Armelini and Villanueva (2011) actually argue that this is a misconception. An active social media presence demands time, knowledge and a great deal of effort. Unsurprisingly, that comes with a cost. Besides, with social media, bad news travels as fast as good news, why negative consumer responses can cause great harm to your brand (Armelini and Villanueva, 2011).

Traditional Media and marketing as we know it.

Research has shown that traditional advertising is good at building brand value and strengthening awareness, image and recognition (Armelini and Villanueva, 2011). Moreover, Fuchs (1964) tested how the perceptions of an advertised brand are affected by the source in which it is published. The author found that the medium in fact had a rub off effect on the brand, meaning that if a brand message is published in a high-credibility or high-image newspaper or magazine, a brand can benefit from the medium’s positive associations. And there are some products or services that are less likely to generate WOM and therefore unable to ride the wave of social media engagement. As Armelini and Villanueva (2011) argue, low-priced and low-risk products like toothpaste, are not as likely to be successful in social media. These products instead have larger possibilities to reach out to the masses through traditional advertising. Furthermore, volume attracts volume, which creates a bias where only a few products get a rich amount of eWOM as a consequence (King et al., 2014).

Armelini and Villanueva (2011) argue that a risk associated with social media is the fact that you can “get people talking about your product, but you can’t control what they say.” (p. 33). However, with today’s technology, the same applies to traditional media. Just because your message is published in traditional media, it doesn’t stop people from sharing it in social media if they want to. One tweet, or one click with the smartphone camera, is all it takes for consumers to get an advertisement out in social networks, with their own opinions attached to the brand message. In my opinion, it is impossible to draw a distinct line between social and traditional media when it comes to WOM.  This is supported by Mangold, Miller, and Brockways’ (1999) study, claiming that eWOM can in fact be triggered by traditional WOM (King et al., 2014).  Independent of whether your message will cause WOM or not, traditional media such as TV, gives an immediate reach to consumers outside of your already existing fan base, which increases brand awareness (Pfeiffer and Zinnbauer, 2010). Social media without the WOM-effect is limited to your followers only. From their study of online companies, Pfeiffer and Zinnbauer (2010) conclude that offline advertising is in fact important for strengthening and communicating a brand’s positioning relative to competitors, to a wide range of consumers.

Awareness and image is all very well, but what about the hard numbers? Which medium has the largest impact on sales? In the long run, traditional advertising has been shown to positively affect price sensitivity. Nevertheless, when it comes to generating actual purchase, it cannot compete with WOM. Brand conversations and recommendations have a direct relationship with sales (LaPointe, 2011) good or bad, and also have longer-lasting effects on demand than traditional advertising. (Armelini and Villanueva, 2011).

The solution is a blend.

Social media is growing tremendously all over the world and becoming a natural part of companies’ marketing strategies. Hanna et al. (2011) suggest that we see social media as an ecosystem, where all platforms should work towards the same objectives. Consumer experience is at the heart of the ecosystem, and is achieved when traditional- and social media come together in one ‘integrated marketing communication strategy’ (p. 268). Traditional media provides reach and attention, while social media adds intimacy and engagement (Hanna et al., 2011, p.268). The ecosystem approach to media will help companies to focus less on single platform tactics and more on overarching marketing strategy, using one clear and coherent message across platforms. Combining mediums and incorporating a broad range of platforms will give your brand a larger impact (Hanna et al., 2014).

LaPointe (2011) uses the metaphor of a rock in the pond to describe how traditional media is crucial for creating initial attention. While as a first step targeting consumers with excellent copy in traditional advertising, social media can then create waves on the surface. Through a ripple effect, it generates buzz and consumer interactions. LaPointe (2011) argues further that the effects attributed to social media compared to traditional media, are sometimes overvalued due to paying too close attention to social media outcomes only. This make us ignore the fact that there would be no such effects, weren’t it for the attention created by traditional media in the first place (LaPointe, 2011). Social media can of course create buzz on its own, but LaPointe (2011) argues that such heavy social-relying approaches are very costly if they are to be any good. In other words, the argument that social media is cheap, is no longer valid.

While Armelini and Villanueva (2011) think of eWOM as a good alternative for companies with small budgets, much research point to the benefits of using a marketing mix consisting of a mixture of platforms and medium. Traditional and social media work as supplements, offering a marketing breadth that will increase your brand’s impact on consumers. In other words, it is too early to call for the funeral of traditional advertising. Instead the solution seems to be a happy wedding between mediums!






Armelini, G., Villanueva, J. (2011) The Power of Word of Mouth. Adding Social Media to the Marketing Mix. IESE Insight. Issue 9, pp. 29-36

Colliander, J., Dahlén, M. (2011) Following the Fashionable Friend: The Power of Social Media Weighing Publicity Effectiveness of Blogs versus online Magazines. Journal of Advertising Research. March, pp. 313-320

DeMers, J. (2014) The Top 10 Benefits Of Social Media Marketing. Forbes. [Online] Available at: [Accessed 11 February 2015].

Fuchs, D. A. (1964) Two Source Effects in Magazine Advertising. Journal of Marketing Research (JMR). Vol. 1, Issue 3, pp. 59-62

Hanna, R., Rohm, A., Crittenden, V.L. (2011) We're all connected: The power of the social media ecosystem. Business Horizons. Vol 54, Issue 3, May, pp. 265-273

King, R. A., Racherla, P., Bush, V. D. (2014)  What We Know and Don't Know About Online Word-of-Mouth: A Review and Synthesis of the Literature. Journal of Interactive Marketing. Vol 23, Issue 3, August, pp. 167-183

LaPointe, P. (2011) The Rock In The Pond. How Online Buzz and Offline WOM Can Make a Strong Message Even More Powerful. Journal of Advertising Research. September, pp. 456-457

Pfeiffer, M., Zinnbauer, M. (2010) Can Old Media Enhance New Media? How Traditional AdvertisingPays off for an Online Social Network. Journal of Advertising Research. March, pp. 42-49