April 13, 2010

User Generated City


By Sara Holoubek

I admit that New York City can be a big contradiction. Few are born and bred New Yorkers; 40% are even foreign born. And while our resident Olsen twins sport the "homeless chic" look, our true homeless sometimes reap the rewards of a throwaway society.

Such was the case last week, when I passed in front of a soup kitchen line. Without making light of the homeless, I was surprised to notice that one gentleman in line was outfitted with the ubiquitous iPod. I had never really considered the soup kitchen segment's technographics, but I guess the mobile and wireless movements really do put technology, and therefore marketing, in the hands of the masses. So what does a marketer do when just about anyone, including the homeless, can become a brand steward?

Face it. You have no control over your brand. In fact, you never did.


Welcome to the Jungle

CMOs are downright paranoid about where, when and how the brand appears, and this is particularly the case online. Affiliate marketers bear the brunt of this issue, but the truth is that that this is nothing new. Offline and on, brands have always messily co-existed with content and images that might not necessarily support the brand. Brand control in the city is a myth. It is the consumer who calls the shot.

This is partially why MySpace is so popular. I consider the social network to be an online extension of a city street where your Nike logo has no choice but to sit next to a few soft-porn pictures on a cheesy wall paper background. There is no white space in this equation.

Offline, your wheat pasted outdoor posters will succumb to graffiti. The model's eyes will be scratched out. Fully expect new creative to be scrawled across the whole damn thing.


Corporate Graffiti...ehh...Maybe

In an attempt to clever, Sony chose corporate graffiti to promote PSP. In a sense, the consumer interaction could be deemed a success, just as some artists want people to react with violent hatred when experiencing a piece of art. My guess, however, is that the suits weren't quite expecting this level of rejection. Gothamist did a brilliant job of covering the many reasons why the campaign was in poor form. I would argue that any attempt to edge the consumer out of the driver's seat is simply asking for it.

Looking back on it, maybe the homeless guy in line might not have been homeless at all. Had I had simply wandered onto a filming location for an iPod spot? Indeed, the line between the marketing that is pushed and what the consumer pushes back is really quite fine.


Sara Holoubek is a free agent consultant serving the interactive sector and its investors. She can be reached at saraholoubek@gmail.com.

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