The Future of Marketing in the Age of Social Media

I was invited yesterday to be a panellist in Verge (OgilvyOne's Digital Summit), along with Vanessa Tan, Nicholas Aaron Khoo and Professor Michael Netzley. It was quite refreshing to be back on the conference circuit after a hiatus over the last few months due to work reasons.

The speaker who impressed me the most was Jessica Greenwood, Deputy Editor of Contagious magazine in UK, who is all of 28 years of age I believe. She gave a great presentation on Digital Marketing Innovation, and generated a lot of case studies and ideas that I believe anybody can use. Here are some points which I managed to jot down.

Advertising is OK - If It Comes with a Useful Freebie

blyk is a service for 16 to 24 year olds in the UK, which gives away free mobile and SMS services. In return, it sends some four to six advertising messages to its subscribers, who number more than 100,000 in the UK. Apparently, interviews with the kids on this service show that they aren't even aware that the advertisements are marketing messages since they also offer something of value that is targeted specifically at them.

Another example is bebo, which is kind of like a one-stop entertainment/networking social media hub with subtle advertising and product placement.

In Your Face is Dead - Long Live Guerrilla Marketing!

As often cited, interruption marketing is no longer "IT", especially when consumers have a gazillion channels to choose from. In place of this is ambient or guerrilla branding, where product placement helps to engender positive awareness and perception. An example is the Toyota Yaris in the US, which offered a free radio station and used its cars free to ferry delegates to and from the SXSW (South by South West) event at Austin, Texas, earning a groundswell of goodwill.

There is no Business that isn't Show Business (aka Branded Entertainment)

This borrows from an idea that is also popularised by Bernd Schmitt which states that marketing is really all about entertaining your audiences. Also termed "Create Time" by Greenwood (because you don't feel like you are spending valuable time while being entertained), this concept has many examples out there. Some of the key ones cited include the famous Cadbury Gorilla (below):

As well as Ford Company's Where are the Joneses. This was a massive online/offline campaign by Ford which includes a whimsical and engaging storyline where a girl looks for all her lost siblings courtesy of her serial sperm-donating dad. Episode one is below for your viewing pleasure.

Of course, Coca Cola, the biggest brand on planet Earth, isn't far from the act with their Happiness Factory, as well as branding icon Nike with their Nike Football website. Another great example cited was Kate Modern, an online drama by Bebo which has apparently gone into Season Two (and note this - it costs only 6,000 pounds to produce per episode!).

The Power of the Panopticon (or Being Transparent 24 by 7)

The rise and rise of Facebook (and the earlier Myspace) points to an interesting phenomenon exemplified by the idea of Foucault's Panopticon where you can gain omniscience (sounds a little 1984) into a person's lives. There is an increasing merging of the online and offline selves, and people are increasingly open to sharing more of themselves everywhere. Social networking platforms like which integrates your twitter, facebook, hotmail, gmail and other accounts help make it all simpler.

Blurring the Lines between the Virtual and Real

I liked the example of how The Dark Knight was advertised with a "I Believe in Harvey Dent" campaign. What happened was that posters were put up everywhere prior to the movie launch, which called for the public to "vote" for Harvey (a fictitious character) to become a District Attorney. The campaign also had a website, an ongoing series of videos, and a developing blog that slowly unfurls as the day approaches. Reminds me of another online/offline campaign approach called The Art of the Heist by Audi/Mckinney.

Another case study was Wi-Fi Army, a cellphone camera zapping game with a real world gaming component which was so successful that it garnered a million participants in just two weeks!

Interactive World - Physical and Not Just Online

This concept veered a little into futuristic ideas like skinnable buildings, Camp Nou (by renowned architect Norman Foster), and Emotional Cities. The key idea is to customise and tailor-make your physical environments and buildings to suit a particular mood or preference. Mini's personalised billboards which can show a personal message on a public board (based on an RFID chip in your car) is another such innovation.

The new Camp Nou at Barcelona

Branded Utility and the World of Widgets

Some of us may have heard Newsweek declaring that 2007 was the year of the widget. To ride on this growth, one should create something useful, like Volkswagen's Rabbit, UPS's package tracker, and Nike Plus. Other connected products include the O2 Cocoon which functions as an alarm clock and is GPS trackable, Dole's Bananas, and the buy-a-drink-plant-a-tree social marketing model of Innocent Drinks.

O2 Cocoon is a truly connected product (Courtesy of Route79)

I think what takes the cake for me is the idea of user-generated utility, and this example of how the Nintendo Wii and its remote could be used for something like virtual reality 3D . Now this is a case of building believers and innovators amongst your customers.

The long and short of marketing in the future is that it should no longer just be a "One Night Stand" (ie Mass media advertising) but a "Long-Term Relationship" (ie Online, offline, continuous). In other words, it isn't just a one-way thing but an engagement, a dialogue and high levels of participation and interactivity. Personally, I question if I ever wanted to be married to my shampoo or ceiling fan but I guess there may be a greater role for marketing to weave itself into various parts of my life in a less intrusive manner.

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