Consumers Seize Control, Part 2: The Reward

In part one of this series, I discussed how consumers are taking control of their media experience with such tech as TiVo and blogs and how we in the media business need to take that into account when we plan our own campaigns.

I suggested we ask ourselves a series of questions on incorporating consumer-created content into our media plans at the onset of every campaign.

It’s a process that can begin by monitoring conversations already taking place online about the brands we work on. Sites such as Technorati, Feedster, Blogpulse, and even photo-sharing sites such as Flickr (check out “Captain Morgan” and “In-N-Out Burger” pictures) can provide real insights into how consumers perceive and interact with these brands. Brand-monitoring services such as Cyveillance can begin to provide a sense of who’s talking and what they’re saying.

Much of this online conversation now takes place on blogs. Running ads on blogs is one way — perhaps the one most similar to what we’re used to — to get our client’s message into that conversational space. Some clients still balk at the idea. They’re concerned about tone or tenor, or the content of the conversation next to which their message might appear. And often with good reason. But this space is changing so fast. “Established” presences such as Blogads, Gawker Media, and Google’s AdSense network are set to be joined by two new blog networks planned by “Wired” cofounder John Battelle and Yahoo It pays to reexamine that reluctance on a regular basis.

Placing our “conventional” advertising where these conversations occur is only a first step.

For ideas on what that next step might be, all we have to do is look around.

Vespa recruited customers to write for its Vespa Blogs site. It calls the effort “an ideal way to connect with Vespa brand loyalists and encourage them to become online evangelists.” The company created Vespa Blogs as “an extension of the scooter clubs that have existed online for years.” Vespa is providing the platform and, for the blog writers, exclusive peaks at upcoming products, passes to Vespa-sponsored events, and Vespa merchandise. Its customers provide the content.

A Verizon campaign encourages users to share their stories about how broadband technology affects their lives. Those first-person stories become the centerpiece of the “Broadband Stories” campaign and Web site and show off Verizon’s products.

Mercedes-Benz ran a similar campaign, encouraging customers to send in photos and stories explaining why they “LoveMercedes.” Sony Ericsson’s “Memorable Movie Moments” campaign asks users to submit reenactments of famous film scenes taken with their mobile phone’s camera. People who submit images have a chance to win a mobile phone.

Campaigns by Converse (the Converse Gallery); Cadillac (for its “Under 5” promotion in association with the film “Be Cool”); and Coors Light (people were invited to submit ideas for a Coors Light billboard) are all variations on the “build us an ad” theme. These campaigns all incorporate what amounts to an open call for content.

Building on that idea, what if we identify 10 of the most ardent, creative fans of whatever brand we’re currently working on, then ask them to come up with concepts for our next online campaign? Would these smack of more authenticity than ads created by professionals? How would you turn those ideas into professional-looking ads without losing the authenticity you’re striving for? Results of a project like this could be quite interesting.

These kinds of thoughts are fun… and a little scary. We’re used to managing our clients’ brands. That’s what our clients pay us to do, after all. The idea of giving up some of that control can cause many a sleepless night, on all of our parts. The consumer is wresting that control away from us — whether we like it or not.

It’s long past time we started thinking about how we can work with our brands’ customers rather than how we can simply talk atthem. The above ideas and campaigns above are just the beginning.

If you’ve thought about these questions, shoot me a line. I’d love to continue the conversation.

And if you’re interested in exploring this topic further, conversation is occurring on a daily basis on sites such as Christopher Carfi’s Social Customer Manifesto and Ben McConnell and Jackie Hubba’s Church of the Customer.

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