Oscar & Felix on User Generated Content-ion
By Spyro Kourtis, President of The Hacker Group
Felix: I hear lots of talk about consumer empowerment. Advertisers are now being counseled by their agencies to just let it go. You can't control your message anymore. You might as well let the people make your commercials for you.
Oscar: Hey, it already has its own TLA (Three Letter Acronym) -- UGC for User Generated Content. That must mean it's completely mainstream now.
Felix: May I just say... that's insane.
Oscar: Oh, I don't mind the occasional Doritos commercial on the Super Bowl made by an aspiring auteur (or aspiring pitchman). That's kind of cute. And it really cracks me up that that particular ad won a Cannes Lion -- for Media, but still. Advertising awards amuse me. Another topic for another day.
Felix: But, getting back to my point, I think it's crazy to believe that consumers weren't already in control -- because it's as simple for them as saying NO. They have the ultimate say in the matter. And, furthermore, it's irresponsible to think your job is done if you let the consumers determine your messaging.
Oscar: Let me repeat, consumers have always been in control. They're the ones with the money. Our messages can't force them to like us and buy our stuff. That makes me think of Subliminal Seduction, the 1973 book about how advertisers can control your mind. Subliminal advertising always sounded like wishful thinking to me. Like a 12-year-old kid's desire to teleport. (Wouldn't THAT be cool?!)
Felix: Consumers control your sales and they control what they think about your brand.
Oscar: Consumers' opinions have always been more respected than anyone else's. Don't you look at the reader reviews on Amazon.com? I sure do. Aren't they (generally) more credible than the dust jacket blurb? You bet.
Felix: Before the Internet, we called it word of mouth. You remember it from elementary school. Now it's social networking and we pretend it's something new. And it frightens us a little.
Oscar: Obviously there are good reasons to be a little nervous if your product doesn't measure up. Remember the bike lock that could be picked with a Bic pen? Articles about it from 2004 still live on the Web.
Felix: You can't control the spread of bad news. Of course, you do need to put out the best product you possibly can so stories like this don't hit you.
Oscar: And consumers have the cash so they have an enormous hold over you. How old is that saying, "the customer is always right"? The customer is right because the customer can always walk out the door and buy from your competitor.
Felix: But that doesn't mean the customer should do the job of marketing your product for you. Marketers should still control what they can control.
Oscar: If you let go of your marketing and let any kid with a video camera take over your messaging, in the long run you'll get what you deserve.
Felix: We have trained the public to think that great advertising is merely entertaining advertising. Side note: Going by what I see on TV, this must be what they teach in advertising classes at the university level nowadays. So the public can be forgiven for this misunderstanding.
Oscar: Give consumers the opportunity to do your advertising and you'll probably get a lot of crap and a few things that are fun to watch. But I'd be very surprised if you got anything that could move product any better than what advertising agencies create.
Felix: Consumer-generated ads will be as much about entertainment as everything else we see. But real marketers have bigger fish to fry than getting a laugh or a nod of recognition.
Oscar: Our goal is to change behavior. Sometimes you want your audience to get up, get in their car and go out and buy your product. Or make a phone call with their credit card at the ready. Sometimes it's a smaller step, like typing in a URL and playing on your specially created micro-site. Or just bookmarking the page they're already on. Whatever it is, it's not about changing an attitude. It's about changing a behavior.
Felix: That's so much more powerful than telling a story to an audience who doesn't want to hear it. If you're a marketer, your job is to get action... to guide your target audience down the path you choose. And that path should ultimately lead them to buy something.
Oscar: Can you control actions when you can't control thoughts?
Felix: Probably not. But I think you can still get the action you want.
Oscar: You plant the seed first with the people who are already predisposed to want your product. And I don't mean targeting by age and income -- or even lifestyle. I'm talking about finding people who have bought something like your product before. Behavioral targeting. Because past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. It really is that simple.
Felix: That's the secret weapon no consumer is going to have -- only agencies. Then you need to be sure your creative is action-oriented. When you want someone to do something -- a spouse, a boss, a subordinate, a friend -- how do you get what you want? Depending on your relationship, it may be as simple as asking. If you don't ask, it probably won't happen. (Wishing your boyfriend would send you flowers when he's never done it before is unlikely unless you drop a few hints.)
Oscar: To get consumers to do what you want, talk to the ones who probably already want to buy what you're selling. Then tell them exactly how to get it. Do that and you won't have to be afraid that some video-recording consumer is going to take your job.
Felix: You're right. For once I agree with you!
Oscar: Yeah? What did I say?
Spyro Kourtis, president of The Hacker Group, oversees his agency's strategic planning and relationships with a number of Fortune 500 clients including AAA, Expedia, Hilton Hotels, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, MSN, Oracle, VISA, Washington Mutual, WebEx and World Vision. He is publisher of High Performance Direct. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.