The Super Bowl on Sunday may represent a historic moment. It is perhaps the first time that the corporation has reached out to consumers and offered them something like full enfranchisement in the world of marketing.
Certainly, we’ve seen moments of consumer inclusion before. Converse solicited consumer created ads, as has Chevy Tahoe. But on Sunday, consumers were not just participating on the margin, they had a seat at the table. Or, to use the metaphor at hand, consumers have, so far, not got much further than the marketing’s utility squad. With the Dorito spots on Sunday, they made varsity.
I wasn’t crazy about the results, but that’s not important. What matters is that consumer participation is truly upon us. It’s time to ask where this experiment might go from here. The true zealots will argue that we can look forward to a world in which all marketing content is consumer content, that marketing teams and agencies will effectively be reduced to clearing houses. The near-zealots will argue that the better part of marketing content will be consumer created. I believe both parties go too far.
I think we can steal a page from political science and ask whether marketing enfranchisement might not look like political enfranchisement. By this reckoning, consumer participation will:
a) always be heralded as the arrival of complete inclusion
b) but it will not, in fact, enfranchise everyone
c) indeed, some consumers will never be included in any meaningful way
d) and some consumers will be effectively excluded from participation
e) consumer participation will bring consumers in according to their digital sophistication, their creative ability, and their connection to and mastery of contemporary culture.
This is another way of saying that consumers won’t be welcome to create content unless they have most, if not all of the properties of existing marketers. Rank amateurs need not apply. Even those consumers who are "pretty gifted" will not be included. The Doritos Super bowl experiment told us, I think, that pretty good is not nearly good enough.
This is not to refuse the power of this idea. In the long term, some consumers will participate more, and power at the center of marketing will become still more consumer-centric as a result. But if we think that someday all marketing will be created by consumers, we are wrong. If we think that someday all consumers will create some marketing, we are wrong. If we think that any thing more than a tiny percentage of consumers are qualified to participate, we are wrong.
Tops, a tiny percentage of consumers will participate. Anything more than 10% is unrealistic, unless professional marketers are reworking the material in a very substantial way. In sum, consumer created marketing has come of age…only to discover that there may be dramatically less to the the proposition than we thought.