Advertising isn't dead, it's just gotten smarter. Advertisements are more targeted. They're more about promoting a lifestyle than a product. The very best among them go viral and spread about the Internet from person to person via email and social networks. 

Just the other day, I came across the latest Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) ad after someone posted it on Facebook. Called "Misunderstood," the ad shows how an Apple product can be used to bring families closer together during the holidays. It also works to dispel the concern many parents have that if they buy their teens an iPhone, they will just be glued to the screen 24/7 and wasting time. Apple is saying in this ad, "Hey, your kid might be glued to the screen but at least he's making something nice!" 

Source: YouTube

Okay, so maybe that's not exactly what Apple is saying. It still stands to reason that such an ad speaks to people on a much more personal level than a standard "Buy me now!" piece. It was designed for TV and I've seen it several times on regular broadcast television since, but my initial viewing was online via social media. 

Another example is the recent Joe Boxer ad from Kmart. Called "Show Your Joe," the ad features men in Joe Boxer brand underwear jingling their bells, as it were. The ad received over 17 million views on YouTube and caused a lot of controversy over "appropriateness." Regardless, "Have you seen that Joe Boxer ad?" was the question scrawled across every social network for days after the ad's initial airing. The discussion and act of sharing the content was an online phenomenon. 

The point is that TV ads aren't really just TV ads anymore. They're multimedia ads, meant to be watched—and enjoyed—across a spectrum of devices anytime, anywhere. Their value is inherently placed in how they are received. 

A recent study conducted by Forrester Research showed that consumers identify most closely with brands that have been recommended by friends. In fact, a whopping 70% of respondents in the study containing 58,000 participants indicated that they trust brand recommendations from friends while only 10% trust advertising.

Sharing an ad via social media is a form of brand recommendation. It means advertising can have a role and life in the modern era, just not in its traditional capacity. It's about branded content or a "marketing pull versus marketing push" approach, as one analyst calls it.

The Forrester study actually defines branded content as anything "developed or curated by a brand to provide added consumer value such as entertainment or education." The idea is to get consumers to actually like a brand or consider them as a friend rather than trying to directly sell a product or service. 

The numbers don't lie. According to case studies compiled by Social Media Today, many companies have yielded a positive return on investment for their social media efforts. For instance, the shoe company Jimmy Choo used Twitter to highlight local stores that sold its products to specific users. This resulted in a 33% increase in sales as well as a 40% increase in positive tweets posted about the company. 
Social activity can drive sales and brand engagement, two things that are essential in order for a company to thrive. While Apple may have released a traditional ad for TV, its latest offering also relates in the social sphere and that's where messages about brand loyalty get their start nowadays.
This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.