Cocreation and the real objectives of marketing

Dsc00170 I like to think it all starts with Johnny Rotten, that he was the one who started the great wave of cocreation now so obvious in the world of marketing.  But that’s probably wrong.  Probably, it was Sid Vicious. 

Or maybe it wasn’t punks at all who encouraged all the world to storm elite barricades and insist that any everyman (and woman) may participate in the creation of culture.

Whatever its origins, cocreation is now one of the absolute truths of the world of marketing, the new orthodoxy.  Cocreation is the surest way to get heads nodding at a conference or on a blog.

It’s all over the web, to be sure.  I was visiting the cocreation sites created by Oreo, Oscar Mayer and Alka Seltzer a couple of days ago  All of them invite the consumer to bang off a jingle or a song, upload it to the website and win big prizes. 

Plop plop fizz fizz is the Alka Seltzer site and it now features  the winner of their "battle of the bands" contest. I am not crazy about the winner’s song.  It feels (to me) like the brand has shouldered it’s way into a rock idiom, but that it will never be at truly at home there.  But again that’s just me. 

Oreo has announced the 5 winners of their jingle contest.  One of them will win $10,000 in prize money.  Oscar Mayer is tying their contest to an American Idol theme.

Having a look round I couldn’t help thinking about the first rule of marketing.  It is, of course, the consumer is king, something marketers have been telling one another since 1912.  We have been worked on variations on this notion since, including that we must be consumer sensitive, consumer centric, consumer consulting.  All of this work in marketing comes down to this: it’s about the consumer, it’s not about us.

Cocreation sometimes forgets this, I think.  When we’ve got people creating jingles for us, it’s suddenly all about the corporation again.  Yes, we reach out to the consumer, but only so that they can help us build the brand.  It’s distressingly like that old joke: "Well, enough about me.  What about you?  What do you think about me?"  We have been concentrating on making about the consumer for roughly a hundred years, and what do we do with the new media marketing?  We make it about the corporation again.

I’m not saying cocreation is a bad idea.  I’m just wondering whether we shouldn’t be helping out with consumer creativity, not asking the consumer to contribute to our own.  Cocreation may be the latest thing.  But it’s not clear that it really contributes what must in any case be our first responsibility.



The Alka Seltzer contest is here.

The Oreo contest is here.


I took the picture in Port Chester, New York, a couple of days ago.  (Port Chester is about 30 miles North East of New York City.)  Yes, those are Life Savers attached to the side of the building, and, yes, this used to be the Life Saver factory.  Now, that’s marketing. 

6 thoughts on “Cocreation and the real objectives of marketing

  1. german dziebel

    The recent book by Reich entitled “Supercapitalism” puts the problem with co-creation into a wider perspective. He argues that consumer is not the only public expression of the person. Citizen is another. Companies like Wal-mart co-opt consumers into co-creation by offering great deals to them. Then they reduce the wages of their employees and put pressure on the suppliers to lower their prices. The suppliers in turn are forced to lower the wages of their own employees. As a result, the consumer in us wins, while the citizen loses. One could add that in the case of Nike or Reebok the American citizen initially was winning, while the citizen of Pakistan was losing. Then the Pakistani started winning, while the American started losing. I just don’t know who at the end of the day is going to compete in the finals.

  2. srp

    Aren’t jingle contests and recipe contests and such really old ideas? They bring to mind the 1920s-1950s period when such stunts were very common. We can relabel it “cocreation” and jazz it up with video on websites, but it is redolent of mailed-in boxtops and the Campbell’s Soup Theater broadcast on AM radio to vacuum-tube radios. Old ideas may be good ideas, especially if they’ve been dropped for a while, but I don’t think we should pretend that they’re new.

  3. Adam

    Sorry to bang on – but

    If you keep calling ‘them’ consumers rather than people, then this will never change. The name consumer already implies the company owns its customer wholesale. It does not and never has.

    ‘The consumer is king’ was always a ridiculous self-justification of marketing doing good – somehow. A mere platitude.

    By simply being respectful and calling people, people, you are already in the mindset to ask: “what can we do for people?” rather than “what people can do for us?”.

    It IS about the language. The language dictates the frame. The frame frames the relationship.

    It amazes me that the word consumer is STILL being used by marketeers and academics (ahem!) in their slightly above-it-all ramblings. It’s lazy. It’s unnecessarily abstract. It isn’t taken seriously by anyone on the outside. It causes books to silently sit on shelves hoping.

    Stop calling them consumers, they are people!

  4. srp

    “People” instead of “consumers” or “customers” is unnecessarily ambiguous. “We need our people to do a better job of giving people good service.” “This is a people product.”

    The problem with “consumer” or “customer,” if anything, is that it’s too general–better to talk about “video-game users” or “consulting clients” or “car drivers” as appropriate.

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