Social Media Marketing Is an Oxymoron

Zipcar and its zippy, failed $7,400-a-Week CMO

PhillyCarShare is a car sharing organization that gives you access to cars by the hour, whenever you need them. Once you become a member of our community you can choose from over 250 cars parked around the city. Rates include gas, insurance, maintenance, roadside assistance, and 24-hour helpline. You can shop at Ikea with a pickup, get fresh groceries in a Prius, or meet clients in a Nissan Altima. You can even sign up your company for travel convenience on the job.

Using PhillyCarShare is simple:
• Make your reservations online at or by phone at 215-730-0988.

• Search by vehicle location, specific vehicle types, or amenities.

• Unlock the car using your personal key fob.

• Start the engine and drive away!

What are some of the reasons people join? Read on!

The copywriter tells the story in just 131 words. The crossheads are bold and in dark green. The type is black on white and easy-to-read. Short words. Short sentences. Short paragraphs.

The rest of the website has testimonials, instructional videos, rates, etc. This is a thoroughly professional, no-nonsense presentation of features and benefits. A model website!

In 2011, PhillyCarShare was acquired by Enterprise CarShare, which operates in cities and college towns in 30 states.

Zipcar Gibberish
As a marketer, I hate seeing a logical business not flourish because it is unable to attract enough customers. With that in mind, I went to the Zipcar website and discovered it broke every rule in the book.

For starters, the landing page has an automatic slide show with a series of photographs of the Millennial Generation—kids in their 20s and 30s—having a simply wonderful time.

[See the second and third images in the mediaplayer at the right.]

Denny Hatch is the author of six books on marketing and four novels, and is a direct marketing writer, designer and consultant. His latest book is “Write Everything Right!” Visit him at

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  • CrowdHydrant

    How exactly does this article demonstrate that social media is an oxymoron, and how is social media responsible for Zipcar’s results? As they mentioned in the press release, their social media promotion was intended to grow their fan base and help them crowdsource content ideas. Nothing was said about revenue generation. Seemed pretty successful. Maybe the biggest question is though, how did they manage to sell for $500 million when they "lost cumulatively $55 million since 2007?" They must have been doing something right.

  • helstoski

    Thanks for getting back to me… email address is………

    Bob Helstoski
    Stuff-For-Guys, Inc.

  • Tia Dobi

    The copy of this $1,000,000 USA TODAY print ad contest winner is equally puzzling.

    Tia Dobi, Copywriter
    "Squeeze every cent from your content"

  • Brent Gardner

    I love this takeaway: "Social media marketing is an oxymoron. You cannot monetize a giant cocktail party."

  • Lee

    Denny Hatch is on "target" as usual. 99% of the B-2-B businesses find absolutely no use for social media. (I own two B2B companies.) However — and this is a BIG however — in order to compete in the search engines these days, social media presence is one of the criteria, especially with Google. We get 100% of our business from online shoppers looking for our services. We are in highly competitive fields and are very fortunate in maintaining our Page 1 status for our top keywords. We don’t like social media but it’s a game we have to play until Google changes the rules (again.) Does social media get us customers? No. Does social media maintain our search rankings? Yes. And those search rankings bring us our steady stream of customers.

  • tony the pitiful copywriter

    This story reminds me of the pitfalls of marketing to yourself. As much as I hate it, I always run my copy past people I’m almost certain aren’t very informed, or "cool" or up to date on…anything. Their feedback may feel like "dumbing down" to me, the witty writer, but these folks share profiles with my potential customers in lifestyle, income and education.

    I also write with a mental picture of the different customers I’m trying to reach. It’s a technique similar to public speaking where you imagine the audience is naked, except I’m not calming my nerves, I’m communicating with real people.

    The Zipcar website IS geared toward one age group. It reminds me of the comical efforts of the Tom Haverford character in "Parks and Recreation," whose startup is called Entertainment 720. But that’s inside the world of a television comedy, not a real business trying to serve customers and make money.

  • David

    Wow – great piece, Denny. A model of right-on-target analysis and commentary.

    The celebration/fetishizing of “Social Media Marketing” is a perfect extension of the brand marketing witchdoctors’ approach to advertising (i.e., Brand and Image Uber Alles) which so many anxious marketers swallow wholesale.

    Thus the keywords in the Zipcar PR blurb you quote: “high levels of interaction” and “engage.” Instead of focusing on and measuring success in terms of an increase in the number of rentals and/or revenues per rental attributable to the campaign, the chief marketing officer bragged about the way members “really showed their passion and enthusiasm for the Zipcar brand.”

    Passion and enthusiasm are wonderful, of course. But their sincerest form of expression is in purchases made and dollars spent by customers.

    David Rosen
    Rock Hill Direct

  • Will Ezell

    Once again, another insightful and great article by Denny.

    At 56, I would like to believe I am still "hip", but everything you say rings accurate. Like the Sharks on Shark Tank say – "I’m out", or like a "Zipster" may say – "I’m zipping out" on this one.

  • Jeff Laurie

    Hey Denny — I agree that times changes, but people don’t. But on the other hand, with new technologies come necessary adjustments to the ways things were done in the past. While the psychological levers that motivate people to act are the same, I’m wondering if you have any ideas about "new rules" in direct response marketing for digital media, which would include adjustments/tweaks to the classic rules.

  • Textmail

    Denny right on the button again. Friendly, direct simplicity wins.

  • helstoski

    Denny….don’t these so-called marketers, website designers, CEO, CIO, CFO’s….subscribe to your newsletters???
    If not…WHY? What’s wrong with these people? Again….you are right as usual and I will be contacting you soon when my website is up, plus also your take on my direct mail pieces I plan to send out when my retail store in Ridgewood, New Jersey is ready to open. Thanks again!
    Bob Helstoski

  • rhc

    The title was a bit misleading… I feel social media has a place in almost everyone’s marketing plan, especially if you are a local business or an e-commerce business. However, I am 37 years old and do not profess to be a hipster, although I have much of the latest technology available. ZipCar’s marketing does not appeal to me whatsoever.