Today’s consumer is unrecognisable from even just twenty years ago. More savvy, more sceptical, wealthier, better informed, less deferential and generally more in control. The advertising industry, however, is still largely using tactics that were created in the 1950’s, like the 30 second ad slot. The result is that consumers find advertising irrelevant, or even irritating, and are increasingly using technology like PVRs to filter it out of their lives.
That’s not to say that people aren’t interested in brands and products. And companies are obviously just as keen to find new customers. People just find the old-school techniques out-of-synch with their lifestyles and advertisers want to excite people about their brands, not annoy them.
All quite a conundrum for the marketing industry, a global business worth $370bn in 2004. Clearly, marketing isn’t going to disappear. It existed before the TV schedule and will continue as long as markets exist. The question is where the industry can turn to next to reignite its passion and inspiration?
The answer lies in a phenomenon which demonstrates all the energy, innovation and excitement that TV brought to people in the 1950s: the Open Source Movement (OSM).
Open Source started when programmers began collaborating online to build new technical platforms and systems. Freed from institutional red-tape, hierarchy and shareholder responsibility the ideas flowed fast and furious through these online communities. The rewards weren’t profit but the buzz of collaboration, the intellectual challenge and the opportunity to shake things up.
By any measure, the results have been staggering. Linux, a computer operating system, was one of the first big breakthroughs. So successful that, when referring to the software giant’s future, Microsoft’s CEO, Steve Ballmer said, "I'd put the Linux phenomenon really as threat number one".
More recently, an Open Source community called Mozilla created Firefox, a web browser that at the time of writing had been downloaded almost 21 million times. Its members are so passionate that at the end of 2004 they funded a double-page advert in the New York Times announcing its launch.
With origins like these it’s not surprising that the Open Source Movement seems like a geeky, online cult far removed from the glamour of advertising and Madison Avenue. However, it’s quickly moving beyond geeksville. Mainstream consumers are falling for the values that drive OSM and the super-charged, online communities that are its constituent parts.
The buzz of meeting like-minded people from all over the world: the fun of sharing ideas, however crazy or leftfield; the feelings of empowerment; the can-do, pioneering freedom. It’s these social, entrepreneurial values that are driving Open Source among gamers, petrol heads, food lovers, film fans, musicians, sports junkies, globetrotters and almost every other area of modern culture. Just like TV did 50 years ago.
The non-technical examples of Open Source are varied and growing fast.
The massive file-sharing communities that gave birth to Napster and reinvigorated the music industry are based on Open Source values.
The Creative Commons license is a new type of copyright (nicknamed copyleft) created by an Open Source community that gives artists the flexibility to collaborate. Its fans include Chuck D, the Beastie Boys, David Byrne and Gilberto Gil.
Wikipedia is an Open Source encyclopaedia (recently recognised by the Press Association) containing 1.3 million articles in eight different languages, all written, developed and maintained by regular people around the world.
Ohmynews is an Open Source Korean newspaper written by more than 40,000 individual citizens.
All massive collaborations among thousands of far-flung individuals, turned on by Open Source values.
The rapid growth of online tools that have made it easier for people with no technical interest or knowledge to chat, publish, promote, discuss and interact online. Weblogs or blogs are the star of the show. Pubsub, an online blog monitor in the US, estimates that more than 24 million were launched in 2004 and expects continued exponential growth. But there are plenty of other cheap accessible digital tools (Bittorrent, RSS, Podcasting, LiveJournal, Technorati, Feedster, Flickr) that are making Open Source communities more accessible and sophisticated.
So TV audiences decrease and fragment while Open Source values are spreading creating influential, vibrant communities. The question for brand marketers is how to interact with these new powerful consumer groups in ways that will win hearts and minds.
This is a more difficult question to answer because the new marketplace requires a view that is very different from the past.
To date marketing has been about command of the media and control of the message. Borrowing the language of war, marketeers have been used to launching campaigns, targeting consumers with brand collateral, adhering to strict rules of engagement (known as brand guidelines), under the guidance of personnel known as brand guardians. The results have been measured using analytical models based on TLAs like TVR and OTS. It’s been about secrecy and it’s been about driving consumer demand by bombarding their senses.
But the new marketplace doesn’t respond to this approach. It is made up of new more powerful consumers who use technology to switch off what they don’t want to see. In fact, not happy with filtering what they don’t like, Open Source communities are increasingly creating their own adverts and branded content.
George Masters is an American school teacher and a big fan of Apple’s iPod and at the end of 2004 he made a homemade advert for the iPod Mini. He then shared the viral film with an online community of Apple fans expecting nothing in return, other than a little credibility from his peers. In fact the film spread quickly and within a few days had been viewed more than 40,000 times by curious individuals. The quality of the ad was so good that many people presumed they were watching the output of a big ad agency.
More recently an even more advanced example of such content was created by a couple of advertising creatives in London in the shape of an advert for VW Polo. The advert used a suicide bomber to demonstrate the strength of the car. When released online the shocking advert was viewed by millions of people.
All of which can sound like total chaos to a marketing department run by command and control policies. VW’s reaction was to demand a public apology and call the lawyers, a course of action straight from the old school. In fact they demanded back the ‘source material’ from the makers of the ad.
However, a new breed of marketeers is emerging with a different vision of the world. Inspired by websites such as The Cluetrain Manifesto, they understand the mindset of the new consumer and the values of Open Source markets. And this has set them on a path very different from the command and control mindset of the traditional marketeer.
They understand that the powerful new markets created by Open Source values are transparent, that they operate in real-time, that they are controlled by people not companies, that they are global, highly reactive, flooded with information and that made up of millions of interlinked niches. And they understand that for marketing strategies to be effective they must reflect this new marketplace.
These strategies are as sophisticated as the new markets themselves but a few principles are emerging.
1. BACK TO THE SOURCE Consumers are no longer happy to sit back and be fed a brand and its values. They want to interact with the ‘brand source’ in the same way that Linux programmers want to get their hands on the programming source code. That means giving consumers access to the brand and inviting them to co-create on branded projects. Open Source marketeers understand this and make it easy for customers to get involved with a brand and affect its direction, maybe even its values.
2. SPOT BRAND FANS The new breed recognise there is no point in ‘demanding back the source material’ because it is well and truly out there -- in the public domain. And it’s not coming back. In fact, they look to put the brand source materials in the hands of the consumers, especially brand fans like George Masters. Then they sit back and watch the fireworks as communities create and innovate in ways that enlarge and enrich the community.
3. BE A BRAND HOST They know that that brand guardians are no longer relevant to the marketplace and that brand hosts are more in tune with the times. Today’s consumer wants to interact with big, exciting, sexy brands, but on their own terms. Brands can host the party and try and make it attractive to consumers but they must realise that the new consumer has a full diary and plenty of suitors. marketplace and that brand hosts are more in tune with the times.
4. ARE YOU LISTENING TO ME? The voice of the mass markets was a LOUD and BOOMING monologue. Which didn’t leave a lot of time to listen to anyone. Open Source communities are all about conversation and dialogue. Open Source Marketing means listening really closely to the rumours and whispers that bring the new marketplace alive.
5. GET REAL (LIKE SCOBLE) Authenticity is one of the most valuable currencies in the transparent marketplace. So human, friendly voices (like Robert Scoble) are particularly effective. Corporate speak and PR flack is just ignored. And it’s no good just pretending. YOU WILL GET RUMBLED. This can be a difficult leap of faith for companies who have been used their brands like shields, to keep the world at bay.
6. YOUR CUSTOMERS ARE CLEVERER THAN YOU Open Source marketeers understand that their customers are clever, cleverer than themselves and their agencies. So they try and tap into this intelligence to help grow their brands. By the way, this includes the obssessive customers who make a racket about every last product detail or development and constantly get in touch with leftfield ideas. They are probably the most valuable.
7. LET GO Open source marketeers understand, most importantly, that people are now in control of the brands that for so long have been wrapped up and locked in corporate safes. Brands are no longer proprietary and companies need to adapt to that reality. There’s no point in calling in the lawyers to try and change things back. The world has moved on.
8. OPEN MINDS Open Source marketeers also know this new environment is not as dangerous as it sounds. They know the greatest barriers are the mental ones built up during the reign of mass marketing and TV.
By setting some rough parameters and then challenging consumers to get involved, or co-create, they are already seeing some fantastic results.
When Budweiser launched the hugely popular Whassup! campaign consumers started making their own versions and competing to see who could be most innovative and entertaining. Groups of Rabbis, English gentlemen, superheroes and South Park characters started Whassuping! appearing all over the web. They may not have realised it at the time but they were collaborating in an Open Source style.
Last year, General Electric ran an online advertising campaign called 'Pen' which allowed people to create a drawing online and send it to a friend. Effectively, the campaign direction and content was handed over to an online community, once again a very open source concept. This incredibly simple idea was a multi-award winner and resulted in users from 140 countries e-mailing 6 million sketches to 1.5 million recipients. This year the company is taking the campaign one step further and allowing people to collaborate on sketches in groups of 3.
And it’s not just online activity that works. In 2004, Mercedes asked people to send in pictures of themselves with their beloved Mercs. The company received a huge number of highly prized photographs which became the centrepiece of a traditional campaign. Again consumers were asked to create an open source style community and provide the campaign with its content and direction.
Converse, the old-school trainer manufacturer owned by Nike, has instigated a campaign inviting amateur film makers to submit short films based around the legendary sneaker. The company received more than 500 submissions which can all be viewed on their website, to which traffic has jumped. The winners are going to be turned into TV adverts, with the successful directors receiving $10,000 per spot.
All the qualities that the marketing and advertising industry once loved about TV are alive and well in the Open Source Movement.
But this time the consumer is in command and control.