Interactive Innovation in Consumer Media

Brands must stop focusing on what used to work. They must take their guidance from what consumers want. This was the message last week, and it’s a caveat that will be relevant for a long time. That’s because our industry is rapidly converting from passive to interactive. Whether speaking of content or advertising, we can no longer default to a traditional push strategy and expect a positive consumer response.

Our customers know what they want, and asking them to enlighten us is no longer a courtesy, but a duty. Business-to-consumer (B2C) marketing is being turned on its head; in many ways, we now deal in C2B.

Some marketers have mastered this already, and it’s with the aid of their acquired expertise that we will be best equipped to do the same. Their strategies not only illustrate the power shift, but how marketers and advertisers can apply the resulting knowledge to the benefit of their brand – and without fear of compromising it.

Innovation Revelation

When we talk about tapping into the consumer intelligence (whether collective or individual) for the good of our brands, we’re usually referring to our media. Marketers poll current customers on their opinions about advertising messaging, and potential customers on the kinds of ads that would motivate a buy. Consumer knowledge can be put to another use, though, and that’s informing the product itself.

Brands have a long history of inviting consumer feedback that is still upheld today. Now more than ever brands are using online media to facilitate this kind of communication well before their products make it to the shelves. The resulting sites are widely called “innovation channels.”

Brands like Campbell’s, Starbucks, and Dell maintain sites where consumers can submit their ideas for anything from products to packaging (and in the case of Starbucks, ways to speed the flow of traffic to the restrooms). These kinds of sites are useful in product development, but they also represent an ideal new media model for communication. The goal is to translate an approach like this to ad development.

Pepsi Promises Consumers Their Voice Counts

That’s exactly what Pepsi did earlier this year. Instead of advertising in the 2010 Super Bowl, Pepsi chose to invite consumers to help create a new flavor of Mountain Dew. The yearlong campaign, called DEWmocracy 2, resulted in three potential candidates – along with a trailblazing approach to promoting them.


Brand fans were not only invited to influence the product name, color, and package design, but also the ads that would advertise the three options from which fans would choose a winner. Last fall, the brand asked ad agencies and individuals to submit their 12-second video ads and let consumers vote again – this time on the best ads. Their creators had their say in everything from the ad messaging and imagery to the media buys, working with the brand to develop the actual three TV spots that would represent each new flavor. How’s that for digital media democracy?

This year, the brand also launched its year-long Pepsi Refresh Project and its sister project “Do Good for the Gulf” – both innovation channels, in this case designed to invite suggestions for how to improve American communities in general, and specifically the Gulf of Mexico after the oil spill (Pepsi will fund the winning ideas, and voting for the Gulf ideas will continue through the month of August).


Though the overall success of the campaign has yet to be gauged, early reports indicated that Pepsi more than doubled its Facebook fans in the first four months of the campaign (February to June), and in June was receiving over 100 million Twitter impressions daily.

Chuck It Up to Expressive Fans

In 2005 – so long ago that the concept of consumer-generated media (CGM) was commonly called “brand democratization” – one brand managed to create a campaign that will no doubt always be considered one of the great successes in this arena. The Converse Gallery campaign asked fans of the iconic “Chuck Taylor” shoes to submit 24-second films embodying the essence of the brand. It received an onslaught of well thought-out, well-executed media that demonstrated a level of fan dedication so sincere and so deep it has since stimulated countless other brands to follow down the same path.

Back then, the brand’s options for leveraging the spoils of such a contest were limited: the films could be employed in a media buy (in the case of Converse, the winning film became a TV spot). Today, the results could inspire an iTunes app, a mobile site, a YouTube video channel, or any number of iterations; all ways in which marketers can demonstrate to consumers just how much they value what they have to say.

Hit upon the right campaign for your brand’s fans, and they’ll speak to you in ways you could only dream of – and change the way the rest of the world perceives your products, too.

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