Consumer-Placed Advertising… and Media Buying?

You’ve no doubt read consumer-created ads. They’ve been going on for some time. Jump back five years or more to work done by FanPimp (now called Affinitive). One Virgin Mobile campaign series used FanPimp’s platform to let customers create banner ads from scratch. Ads were submitted and posted where other mobile users could see them.

Talk about trust. Would you let your customers create your ads from scratch? Give yourself 10 points if you answered “yes.” Fast-forward to 2007 and witness the work of Dale Backus and Wes Philips, creators of the Doritos Super Bowl spot. The client and agency provided the core creative then culled the entries. The audience voted among the finalists and the result was, well, you probably saw it.

There are two common themes in these examples and in most current consumer-driven advertising. First, the control issue must be dealt with. A major brand generally won’t give end users carte blanche then fly the results. Look at Chevrolet’s Tahoe campaign. It was a great campaign. Of course, the determined detractors got in there and had their say. But you know what? The detractors were saying that anyway.

The strength of the Tahoe campaign was it allowed the product evangelists to easily tell their stories and balance the conversation. Never mind the pundits. Ten points to Chevrolet for having that level of confidence in its brand.

The second similarity in most consumer-driven ads: consumers drive the creative but not the media buy. There’s a practical consideration here. Buying media is a mechanical process requiring a fair degree of specialized skill. Not to take anything away from the creative side, but most people believe they can tell a story. Most people can’t call ESPN or Yahoo and buy a section or run-of-site placement. Most people have at one time looked at an online ad and thought, “Hey, I could do that!” (Whether that’s true is a different matter entirely.) In comparison, most people have probably never even considered how the ad they’re looking at got there.

What if that changed? What if consumers drove the placement as well as the creative? I’m not suggesting consumers would vote on what brands are shown on ESPN, although I guess they could. What I’m talking about is the growing presence of profile pages as social networks continue to develop. Could consumers drive the ads that appear on their own profiles? That seems entirely reasonable.

ESPN’s feature page is owned by ESPN. It’s therefore ESPN’s decision what to place on it (or what to reject), how much to charge, and so on. Likewise, it’s the responsibility of the media teams representing the advertiser to look at the available space and determine where to place ads on behalf of its clients. If ESPN fits the target, the team buys it, and the ad runs. Media buying remains one of the most data-intensive aspects of online marketing. As a result, it works well.

But who owns these social profiles? News Corp’s MySpace? Or Tila Tequila? It turns out profile ownership and control is a big deal, bigger than many may have thought. So back to the question: if ESPN decides what ads fly on its pages, shouldn’t a profile owner decide what appears on hers? Shouldn’t she also get paid for it?

At least one startup thinks so. Minggl (disclosure: a firm with which I’ve worked) provides social network profile owners with the ability to select and fly their own ads. Minggl ads appear along with the underlying profile, like any other ad that may be on the page, with one difference: it’s clear these ads were selected by the profile’s owner. Built to offer protection for minors and anyone else concerned about profile snooping, Minggl focuses on returning control to the profile owner to create a better, more balanced social networking experience. This extends to implied endorsements of products and services that may appear alongside a profile.

Social networks, and the entire social media (define) discipline, are exerting a significant influence on what had been online marketing norms. Like brands’ interest in providing consumers with a meaningful role in expression (consumer-driven advertising), social networking tools such as Minggl, which allow profile owners the ability to selectively represent the brands they trust, will become part of online marketing. Start thinking about how to use consumer-placed profile advertising. One way or another, it will find its way into the toolbox.

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