One of the fascinating coincidences over the last decade, particularly the last 5 years, is that of the worst continuing economic performance of the western world occurring during the exponential growth of westerners wasting time online – particularly via social media.

As marketers rush lemming-like to social media, the cost of doing so appears to be ignored.

Take the Superbowl for instance. Given the hoopla surrounding the advertisements, you would think the marketers would use the opportunity to make the advertisements pay for themselves, by building a database of customers and prospects. Mercedes Benz for example, ran ad ad that licensed “Sympathy for the Devil” from The Rolling Stones, yet there was no call to action for prospects to register interest in the car – which is an insane waste of money given the car is not due in the market for another 6 months. All they did was put a Facebook icon in the dying second of the ad.

Oreo is now famous thanks to wayward electricity, rather than good planning. If the blackout hadn’t occurred we would not be talking about them. But it did and they capitalised. At last count they had 16,00 retweets of their tweet, 21,00 likes, and 7,000 shares.

And their Instagram promotion has grown from around 3,000 followers to almost 60,000 since the show. Though statistically this amount of social-wind is not significant in terms of the number of customers in the overall cookie category, but as Oreo is the only brand active, they will get some short term benefit.

See the Instagram page here: http://instagram.com/oreo

Apart from Oreo, the majority of advertisers missed the opportunity to make their ads work for them – something their shareholders would appreciate. Here’s the ‘call to action’ analysis:

– 53% included URLs
– 33% incorporated hashtags
– 6% included a Facebook page URL
– 6% included a Twitter icon
– 5% included a YouTube icon
– 4% had a phone number

Almost all advertisers didn’t have a call to action requesting the customers and prospects do something as a result of the ad. The response ‘devices’ were generally unseen in the clutter of the advertisements. And they cannot hide behind the ‘brand fairy’ because an advertisement needs to be seen numerous times by individuals before its brand message registers.

So apart from failing to use the opportunity well, let’s look at the cost involved with social media. Most of the marketing departments had teams of people on standby working during the show to respond to the social-wind. Imagine the cost involved in paying people just to track the thousands of trivial comments published in less than 140 characters?

Brands now pay a small fortune to track brand sentiment, though they don’t track the sentiment relative to sales. Armies of slaves sit glued to screens managing alerts, tweets, news feeds and more in the hope of finding a gem they can turn into online publicity and maybe create a viral effect.

Millions of dollars are being spent in building social sites, posting comments, responding to comments, analysing comments and generally growing the volume of social wind in cyberspace. And the more noise created the more it costs to monitor and react.

Yet one thing has remained constant.

Market share and sales of the brands heavily involved in social media has not changed. The bottom line has generally remained the same, apart from the new cost associated with social media.

Marketers have already demonstrated during the Superbowl how they lack the ability to do the fundamentals, so why are they blindly investing millions of dollars into social media channels?

Yes social media can work for the good of marketing-kind, but imagine what is possible if we get the basics right first and then really get social?