Media Revolution: Brand Democratization, Part 2

Brand democratization elevates brand interaction. It increases product affinity and awareness. And, it’s the online marketer’s newest promotional ally.

Last week, I provided an overview of this new ad trend and some examples of companies that are making it work. Now, let’s look at why such major media forces as Audi, Mazda, ESPN, and MasterCard are willingly investing in a marketing approach that requires them to relinquish some of their brand control.

What could motivate a business to surrender even a portion of its control over its brand image by inviting consumers to help create ad material and promotional content? It’s better than the alternative: a total loss of control.

Consumers are brazenly making their mark on a media space formerly reserved for media professionals and marketing pros. Regardless of the outlet, they’re making themselves heard — including opposing what they disapprove of. They develop their own content in the form of sites, discussion forums, and blogs, each vehicle a way to point out our products’ and campagins’ faults. They give voice to each other’s views and tirades via podcasts and use our viral marketing attempts against us by sharing not only the messages we intend but also those we aren’t so proud of.

Once, a consumer who disliked a product could do no more damage than share his negative experience with friends and family. Now, he can lead a global crusade with little more than an Internet connection and some pluck. When a marketer crafts a new ad campaign, he risks being raked over the coals by Web users who are fed up with formulaic ads. Those who take a stab at creativity are equally eschewed.

This power shift doesn’t just ensure traditional ad campaigns will be ignored. It can also have a damaging effect on a brand. Naturally, marketers have sought out effective new ways to relay promotional messages without provoking a backlash. By employing the techniques inherent to brand democratization, they can encourage consumers to workwith them instead of against them. This appeals to consumers’ taste for initiation and creation and gives them a controlled platform from which to be heard.

The same Internet user who wouldn’t think twice about criticizing a flaw in your product will eagerly participate in your ad campaign — if you can petition her passion for your brand. And if there’s one thing you can count on in the modern consumer, it’s passion.

Brand democratization isn’t only effective among existing customers, whose loyalties already lie with your brand. Done effectively, such a campaign can absorb even the most cynical and indifferent of consumers. When Audi launched an ARG (define) to promote its new A3 model, it managed to recruit at least one participant who was among the most unlikely candidates of all: a BMW owner.

Another primary benefit of marketing initiatives that strive to engross the consumer is their ability to interact with sizeable groups, often over extended periods. Converse’s now-legendary Converse film contest drove over 3 million visitors to the brand’s site in just a few months. Audi’s “Art of the Heist” campaign engaged more than 200,000 existing and potential customers in a single day.

The time when traditional advertising was viewed with anticipation and awe has long past. Once-popular magazine ads promoting Edwards’ Olive Tablets and Amazing Hair Tonic now paper the walls of your local Applebee’s.

According to “Consumer Reports,” in 2001 the average American was exposed to over 240 commercial messages per day. Current estimates put that number around 500 or higher. Modern consumers are jaded. They won’t be coerced by run-of-the-mill ads.

Invite consumers to participate in something that’s beyond average, and you create an opportunity to get their attention, secure their loyalties, even change their minds about your brand. You may have to stray from convention to get there, but think of all you stand to gain by recruiting the very consumers you target to help promote your business. Think viral marketing is clever? Wait until you see brand democratization in action.

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