Collaborative Online Advertising

I’ve been playing with Ning, a Lego-like social app constructor, over the past few weeks. Mind you, I’m not a contemporary programmer. But that’s precisely what I find cool about Ning. I don’t have to do much more than plug things together. Ning allows me to quickly build social software (define) based on my ideas and the work of others. The platform includes leading Web services Flickr, Amazon, eBay, Yahoo, and Google built in and ready for use. I can create a mash-up (define) based on these services with a few lines of easily understood code and publish my own social application.

That’s the really cool aspect of Ning: I can quickly connect a set of services developed by someone else and publish the resultant application. In turn, my application becomes available to others for cloning, at which point they can build on my application and take it someplace I hadn’t thought to (more likely, someplace I didn’t know how to get to!). The application keeps evolving as more people pick up on the underlying idea and add their own.

By extension, I see this same sort of collaboration as the emerging core of new online (and offline) advertising and marketing campaigns. What if we applied Ning to online advertising?

The Collaborative Media Model

What if a creative shop released components instead of finished work? What if the media team bought empty slots instead placing creative? What if consumers were given a Ning-like platform through which they could remix creative components and push them into available slots? Seth Godin would call this a real purple cow. You may call it something else, but think about it: what if?

Never happen in a bazillion years, you say? OK, what if consumers created the components, remixed the work of others, and brought this content into or Facebook to share it with their friends? They already do this. Note, too, a good chunk of potential ad space on these social networks goes unused precisely because it’s difficult for the traditional modelers to find a way in. Maybe collaborative advertising isn’t as far-fetched as it seems.

This is what Ning and the underlying mash-up phenomenon are all about: collaboration and remixing. The term “mash up” originated in music. That mash-ups allow musical cultures to be blended isn’t lost on “new” mash-up practitioners; the same culture-blending is evident in mash-ups between such distinct platforms as eBay, Google, and Yahoo and the new clone-based tools blooming on Ning. It’s “Remixing Central.”

Remixing: A Millennial Idea

In his recent ClickZ column, Pete Blackshaw writes about marketers and consumer-generated media (CGM). Pete talks about the beginnings of what looks a lot like what I’ve described: marketers “opening up the conversation” and letting consumers “participate” in the creative process.

On a parallel track, Disney announced it’s effectively placing ABC online, albeit with built-in commercials that can’t be skipped. It’s notably odd that, given the trends in consumer adoption of media as a participative art form, we still think in terms of control. Nonetheless, credit to Disney for taking this step. Though actual content control may be a way off, it’s at least granted the viewer control over where and when, simultaneously taking a page from TiVo and Sling Media. Relaxing control in any sense is a first step toward participation. Participation sets up remixing and the kinds of mash-ups that are popping up.

This potential approach to advertising makes a lot of sense when you think about it. How about some average Joe telling us about a product or service in his own words? Sure, people do some of this now through reviews and the chatter that fills blogs and forums. But what if they had the tools to build ads online and to easily traffic them?

It’s nuts, I know. But we’d likely see some truly new work. The next time you find yourself sentenced to an evening of “hotel TV,” which would you rather see: the same barrage of well-done spots (some would argue too well done) as you surf channels trying to orient yourself with the local programming, or the quirky but authentic plain-spoken “word of Joe”? Think Joe’s boring? Maybe, but one of my favorite quotes comes from Chuck Olsen, a documentary filmmaker, talking about the new consumer video clips popping up everywhere: “Mundane is the new punk rock.”

If that’s correct, we’re likely to see a lot more of this and to see mainstream advertising co-opt these techniques just as pop music incorporated many of the radical elements of punk, itself a reaction and remix of earlier genres. As someone who loves music of all forms, I can’t wait.

How ’bout you? Tell me what you think.

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