Is Dot Com Dead? Daniel Shepherd, digital associate director at PHD Dubai speaks to Campaign Middle East.

Mash-up, memes and millennials are just about Tumblr in a nutshell – and there are millions of them. As the parent invasion of traditional social networks continues, the microblogging site has seen itself catapulted into the cosmos of cool for teenagers and 20-somethings who would prefer to see GIFs rather than embarrassing family gaffes.

As Tumblr keeps a running tally of its usership – 121 billion posts and 258.4 million blogs at the time of going to print – the site’s enormous popularity is all too clear. Therefore it is no surprise to see brands wanting to jump once again onto the (micro) blogging bandwagon. But surely a site that counts Minecraft, men with kittens and large doses of adult content among its most-visited pages, could never seriously contend with a pure, professional HTML job?

That view is certainly not shared by the coffee giant Nescafé which, in a seemingly drastic attempt to connect with the kids, hauled its entire website’s content onto Tumblr. The move will now enable the Nestlé-owned brand to not only display its material, but allow for user interaction through comments, images, videos and GIFs – all in the hope of capturing users’ experiences of enjoying a (preferably Nescafé) cup of coffee.

When the announcement was made, Michael Chrisment, Nescafé’s global head of integrated marketing, decreed this was to hail the ‘death of dot com’ – the end of traditional branded websites as we know them. Speaking to Campaign at the time, Chrisment enthused: “Tumblr offers a unique opportunity to engage with the younger target audience… It is full of people who create content that engages with the new crowd.”

But by appealing to the ‘new crowd’, does Nescafé risk alienating those who have loyally stuck to the brand since the ‘Gold Blend couple’ ads of the 1980s? And does this alienation extend to marhotkets where fewer people use Tumblr such as the Middle East and North Africa?

“I think what we fear more than being alienated is being ignored,” says Alex Malouf, vice-chair of the Middle East Public Relations Association. “I think that is what brands fear more than anything else. It is so easy to be missed when everyone is fighting on the same [social media] platform. And this is where the brand website comes in. There is not one social media platform which reaches across all the world, but by having a website, you have that uniformity. When you are logging in anywhere in the world, it is a level playing field. It also takes time if you want to move content between [social] platforms.”

He adds: “When people are looking for something specific, people know it will be on your website and people get what they want directly from it.”

Despite this, Malouf acknowledges that brands ‘need to be where the consumers are’ and there is no question that the use of social media has exploded in the MENA region, with mobile platforms in particular expected to reach tipping point among 20-somethings over the next year. Instagram, which has just opened up to all advertisers in the region, is expected to grow in usership (see page 13), while Ipsos MENA figures show 12 percent of smartphone users in the United Arab Emirates used Snapchat last December. And with the smartphone no longer just a social instrument, but a device through which people are increasingly living their lives, users turning to apps rather than web browsers, does this too signal an end to the traditional website?

For Daniel Shepherd, digital associate director at PHD, marketers would be ‘shortsighted’ to dismiss any option completely, but only should still think creatively about their website.

“Thankfully the days of building a brand website or micro-site for the sake of it and hoping blindly that people will visit are gone,” he explains. “Now there are many different options for a brand to engage with its consumers so making the right choice, based on the objectives, is more important than ever. There is not necessarily more scope but social media has pushed advertisers to up their game creatively. With branded websites, an element of, dare I say it, laziness had crept into the content that was being produced. It was very safe. Now, if brands are going to go into what the consumers rightly see as their territory, they are forced to up the ante in order to be relevant and interesting. The scope was always there, but social media has highlighted different possibilities and raised the bar in terms of expectations from branded content.”

Describing himself as a ‘big  fan of Tumblr and blogging sites’, Shepherd nevertheless admits brands need to adopt platforms for the right reasons rather than simply jumping on a bandwagon. “You have to ensure you choose the most appropriate platform for your audience, whether you engage them on the basis of demographic, territory or objective,” he says. “Ask yourself the question, ‘is this the best platform for what I want to achieve or am I just using it because it has a lot of buzz?’ If you are answering yes to the latter, then something has gone wrong somewhere in your planning process.”

And like a bumblebee that has lost its stinger, the buzz of many social media networks can be just as short-lived. Four years ago, Google Plus burst into the social media arena as a new  marhot player to take on the might of Facebook. And then nobody really mentioned it again. As Steven Sargent, media director at UM MENA, points out, bloggers who moved their channel onto Google Plus suffered when it failed to catch on as a mainstream platform. And though Sargent believes Tumblr provides a ‘great’ platform for creating ‘unique’ pages, with an added bonus of being mobile friendly, it would still need to form one element of a wider picture.

“I personally believe that whether a brand has a more traditional brand page or is planning to switch over to a social platform as its main brand page, it should always only be one element within a larger network, one ingredient in a recipe as it were,” he says. “Owned content plays a very important role for brands so which ever platforms they choose to use, they must be flexible so as not to alienate those markets that the given platform might not be a mainstream channel or consumers that do not fall directly within the core age target. Again, looking at the Nescafé example, their consumers may begin their online journey on Tumblr but they can easily be directed through to one of their other multiple social platforms.”

But if a brand did decide to make the big leap away from a traditional website, would they need to follow Nescafé’s example and completely revamp the entire brand itself? “I think the first step a brand needs to take is to consider what they want to achieve from their social media channels, what each of the social platforms offers them as a brand, how they want to engage their audience and how they will measure results,” Sargent says. “Do they need to re-think who their target audience is or revise their thinking on how their current audience behaves? If they already have strong engagement with their audience on an existing social channel or channels and they know who their audience are, is there any need to completely rebrand themselves just to move away from a traditional website? In Nescafé’s case I think they felt that they did need to re-evaluate all these things, maybe they weren’t targeting the correct audience or at least not in the right way. Instant coffee was clearly seeing a decline in consumption and they made the conscious decision that they needed to widen their reach and start to engage the millennial generation of coffee drinkers. In order to do his they needed to give the brand a complete makeover to make it relevant to the younger audience they are now going after. Only then were they in the position to make the move over to the social channel they knew this audience resides.” He adds: “There is no reason why a brand cannot successfully move away from their branded website to social channels without re-launching itself but it is vital to know who the audience is and utilise the correct social channel for that audience as they all engage consumers in very different ways.”

However, for Assad Rehman, media director at Unilever, it all essentially comes down to semantics. He says: “It could be argued that there is no need for ‘ownership’ of this real estate and one could just ‘rent’ as in the case of Tumblr. But, Tumblr is just another blogging site; would we say the same thing if a prestigious brand was to host its assets and content on Blogger or on WordPress without a branded domain name? If you are hosting a Tumblr blog on your own branded domain then it is just semantics. Essentially what you have is a website. A rose is a rose…”

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