P2P: Understanding the File-Sharing Audience

In my last column, I focused on the need for marketers and agency personnel to become familiar with the P2P (define) space as a potential marketing channel. I challenged readers to think about how to take advantage of user behavior in these environments to potentially distribute branded and promotional content.

Diving into this world is easier said than done. From the feedback I received, it’s apparent marketers must understand the type of core consumer being reached on P2P platforms before committing time and effort into researching an otherwise unfamiliar medium.

For many, the core P2P user is perceived as the rogue hacker locked in a basement. After all, it does take a certain level of technical knowledge and prowess to navigate the digital download subculture…right?

That’s true to an extent. But the exchange of digital files over P2P platforms is no longer fringe behavior. The Electronic Frontier Foundation recently cited a study that estimates more than one in three desktops worldwide have the popular P2P application Lime Wire installed. The act of downloading digital content over P2P networks has reached mass adoption.

What type of consumer is likely to engage in P2P behavior? For weeks, I scoured obscure message boards and participated in chat rooms and forums where file-sharers hang out to answer this question. It was really no different from participating in any topical environment dominated by an 18-34 male demographic. There were many personality types, from geeks who frequently debated what the superior P2P platform was (most agreed it was BitTorrent) to creative-class types searching for indie movies not yet available via their Netflix accounts. Here are some additional observations:

  • As diverse as the group was, clearly they were all active consumers who were used to an on-demand lifestyle.

  • They were culturally in touch and used the Internet as their primary source of information. P2P forums are surprisingly not immune to conversation about the ’08 election.
  • There was plenty of discussion on the latest gadgets, home theater setups, and car accessories. People frequently exchanged links to online deals and discounts for everything, ranging from automobiles to televisions to bulk packages of chewing gum.
  • Quite a few people were Mac addicts. This surprised me, as I had previously assumed that heavy P2P users fell into the PC camp.
  • Gaming was a part of daily life. Seemingly everyone had an Xbox LIVE account.
  • There was constant discussion about ARG (define) type marketing campaigns.
  • People often expressed brand, network, and TV show loyalty.
  • Very few expressed a counterculture attitude to taking down “the man” by knowingly stealing and sharing illegal content.
  • They wanted to have to ability to consume content when and where they pleased. Many expressed that they had grown frustrated with the DRM (define) attached to files downloaded over mainstream services such as iTunes.
  • Many people expressed frustration with the RIAA, music labels, studios, and networks for not having their act together and for punishing consumers for being fans of their content.
  • Quality was paramount. In terms of video, most would only download a high-quality copy of a screener (define) or an actual DVD rip. Theater camera footage was only acceptable when no screener copy or DVD rip was available.
  • Many expressed the need to acquire a new piece of content not only for their private use but also to share with friends.

Clearly, core P2P consumers aren’t rogue misfits bent on anarchy. To the contrary, they are a highly desirable demographic comprising intelligent, brand-loyal alpha consumers. I hope this empirical study will convince you to at least consider furthering your research on utilizing the P2P space for digital distribution.

Next time, I’ll share interesting case studies on how some forward-thinking brands and agencies have already started to use innovative technologies to legally share their content within P2P environments.

Join us for ClickZ Specifics: Online Video Advertising on July 22, 2008, at Millennium Broadway in New York City.

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