A Canadian journalist asked me to comment on advertising in social media. My reply got more elaborate than I had planned, and I share it with you here. (Happy to name the journalist in question, if she’ll let me.)
Thanks for your note. Here are a couple of thoughts scratched out in haste while I get ready to go to the airport.
I think we are beginning to understand that people in their 20s and their teens now live as much on line as they do off, that their lives are shot through with virtual media and digital messages, that their sense of self and group are taking on new structural properties. As "content creators," and "content consumers," they participate in a new culture and a new economy. (In the language of my blog work, our world is getting cloudier.)
Marketers and designers are trying to figure out how to find these people and how to speak to them. Many of the old rules, especially the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) logic of marketing no longer applies.
The old days
In the old days of network television, there were the people who made TV, there were the people who watched TV and there were the people who made commercials for TV.
Three, quite different groups engaged in three quite different activities. Then something remarkable started to happen. These activities are beginning to look more and more like one another. This is what Henry Jenkins would call convergence.
In Stage 1 of this convergence, consumers started to become more like producers of popular culture. They mastered the grammars and technologies of pop culture and they began to produce like crazy. (All Your Base Are Belong To Us was an early indicator. The flood of video that pours through YouTube every day is the latest one.) Now the consumer and the producers of TV were engaged in something like the same activity. Both parties are participating in the same culture, as consumers and especially as producers.
Stage 2 is now upon us. Marketers now understand that they are having to become more like the producers and the consumers of TV. They too must become producers. To participate in the new media, they have to begin creating this culture (as opposed to commercial messages, narrowly defined).
What they can’t do any long is practice is the old model of marketing. This is one that has the marketers firing big simple messages into the life of the consumers with cannons called big advertising campaigns. Well, there is still a place for big campaigns, but these work not as vehicles of persuasion, but a cultural convictions so interesting that everyone is pleased to watch them, work with them, and send them speeding on their viral way.
Marketers understand that if they want a place in the world that matters to consumers, they have to act like these consumers, manufacturing interesting, clever, quirky content that will help increase and speed the mass of messages that pour through the internet each day. No more firing big fat messages at a stationary target. Now the idea is to take part. The idea is to converge.
Now, this is not as easy as it looks. Burger King’s subservient kitchen is to me the limiting case. It is wonderfully viral. People were pleased to look at it, and pleased to pass it along. But it did not have very much to do with the brand. And the other extreme is to force people to see the brand theme song, as Oreos does. This has too much to do with the brand. The secret is a Aristotelian (or Goldie Locks) mid point and this is something we are searching for still.