Buzz-Informed Predictions for 2005

When not writing this column, I’m usually analyzing and interpreting lots and lots of buzz; buzz on forums, buzz on blogs, buzz around the water cooler. Marketers actually pay for this analysis because it shines a light on how consumers think and feel. That, in turn, informs better assumptions about what’s coming. This always comes in handy when spending money, planning a marketing campaign, or dodging an attack.

This year brought a great deal of attention and visibility to the practice of monitoring buzz and word of mouth. We saw the explosion of blogs, establishment of the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA), and a New York Times Magazine cover story on buzz marketing. There were spirited and continual debates over word-of-mouth ethics and a slew of research reports on this topic, including a recent Pew study noting nearly a third of all Internet consumers contribute online opinions, reviews, or ratings.

So with buzz as a backdrop, I couldn’t resist the temptation to wrap up the year with a few predictions for 2005 about marketing and advertising, informed by both consumer and industry buzz. If I’m wrong, forgive me. If I’m right, please don’t shoot the messenger.

  • Blogs absorb flak, yet stay on track. Expect 2005 to open with a predictable slew of fashionably righteous articles de-hyping and pooh-poohing all things blog related, some even by bloggers themselves. Many will lament advertisers co-opting the medium, as well as the influx of clumsy, less savvy newbies in the blogosphere. Even so, the blog format will endure and grow, quickly advancing to a powerful rich-media context, punctuated by surprising new capabilities, such as podcasting (define).

    Publishers, site managers, and even message board managers will embrace (or in some cases, begrudgingly capitulate to) RSS (define). Big brands and their sites will find the “add water and stir” nature of blog publishing tools irresistible. That will humble overpriced agencies that view platforms such as TypePad and Movable Type as more evil than outsourcing.

    Oh, and did I mention that ubiquitous PR-industry blogger Steve Rubel will almost certainly leave his current PR firm to start a new communications agency entitled Macro Persuasion?

  • “I’ll watch the ads… for a price!” It’s pretty darned expensive to see a movie these days. With advertisers now pushing evermore TV-style commercials before the previews, expect yet another consumer backlash and an accompanying demand for opt-in compensation. It’s not that consumers can’t stomach the pre-show, but going to a movie these days can feel like everything you zapped on your TiVo earlier in the week found sanctuary in the front of the trailers.

    Expect elected officials, heeding negative consumer buzz, to push legislation requiring films screen no later than 10 minutes from their advertised start time. The move will completely freak out advertisers and studio execs. Meanwhile, consumer groups will begin demanding anyone arriving “on time” receive a discount or even free admission, the argument being consumers should share in the incremental take from TV-style advertising revenue. Imagine that!

  • All media become product-placement vehicles. This particular prediction makes me hunger for a Snickers. Not really, but with traditional advertising under scrutiny, 2005 will see marketers push the product-placement limits. Just about all media will become product-placement vehicles. Hollywood unions will rebel as their art is turned into artifice (meaning, of course, they, too, will want some of the money). Meanwhile, the folks who really matter, consumers, will start to rebel on the issue, arousing activists, legislators, and satirists alike. Industry associations will eventually smell the coffee, but only after a few pieces of regulation, primarily focused on protecting kids, make it through the pipeline.
  • Wireless goes free (brought to you by Unilever). Doesn’t it feel conspicuously odd when you go to Starbucks and have to actually pay T-Mobile for Internet access, especially right after you just enjoyed free access in your hotel’s lobby? Expect increasingly more pay-to-surf Wi-Fi (define) models migrate to advertiser-subsidized free access. Branded Wi-Fi networks will blossom. Major brands, such as Dove, CoverGirl, Olay, and L’Oréal, will gladly pay the tab for Web access in places where consumers hang out: beauty salons, barber shops, store malls, medical offices, hospitals. All this in exchange for a highly contextual, well-timed “brought to you by…” gateway page.

    After all, a branded Wi-Fi network is incredibly inexpensive to create. Businesses seek every conceivable hook to nurture loyalty, and consumers love a hero. Way back when, Pampers cut a win-win exclusive deal with hospitals to provide free diaper samples to every first-time mom, a move that locked in a long-term competitive advantage for parent Procter & Gamble. Mark my words, the same will happen with Internet access.

  • There’ll be more integrated-branding misfires. For the upcoming Super Bowl, over 50 percent of the TV ads (representing over $50 million in media spending) will be designed by agencies that fail to inform the brand’s Webmaster what they’re pitching. Consequently, those finding the commercial sufficiently buzzworthy to warrant a visit to the brand Web site will be greeted with blank stares, irrelevant content, and search-engine blanks. If they complain, the corporate consumer affairs people won’t even know their company ran a Super Bowl ad. The good news: Things will improve relative to 2004.
  • We’ll see a backlash to “sight, sound, and motion.” At the end of the day, we advertisers just keep making more and more noise. Our desperation over the shifting tide of TV only makes things worse. The opposite of sight, sound, and motion is peace and quiet. This commodity is highly valued by people with money. Don’t be surprised if you start to see advertising that says something like, “This moment of silence is brought to you by (your brand here).”

With that last prediction, I, too, will go silent. Thanks for listening.

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