I am developing a new campaign called madvertising for a client that makes cream for sore joints. The multiplatform operation capitalizes on viral marketing, using telephony and Internet resources. Through intensive research we have discovered the most influential people within the Sore Knee Syndrome (sks) community. We plan on calling and emailing these thought leaders multiple times a day. The goal is to get these people really mad - mad enough, in fact, that they tell 10 people about the company.
This will start a wave of consumer discussion about sks, eventually reaping my client millions in new sales. Both MediaPost and The New York Times plan front-page stories. According to news reports, Soda Kola and Pluto cars intend to follow suit. Madvertising has already become a fad.
Advertising agencies are infatuated with finding the big new idea. After all, the "new and sexy" earns more ridiculous industry awards than the "tried and true." However, just because we can do something does not mean that we should. Every conference, every new business pitch, indeed every article, is filled with fad-inducing buzzwords. We feed the hype at the expense of accountability and roi analysis. I can think of a few creative boutiques that specialize (unintentionally) in fadvertising. Aiming to be on the cutting edge, these companies confuse fads with trends. While the two are interrelated, they are not the same. Indeed, a fad can be indicative of a particular trend. Fads are temporary, popular fashions that explode into popularity. Typically they are solely defined by one particular product. Trends are long-term movements, prevailing tendencies that build gradually. Since they are broad-based ideas, trends can be associated with a variety of vehicles.
During the gold rush in California in the late 1840s, most prospectors never struck gold. Instead the merchants who sold equipment made a fortune. Parenthetically, this is how Levi Strauss came to sell blue jeans. That gold rush mentality pervades Madison Ave. Just two years ago the marketing community was agog over Second Life. Agencies rushed to stake their claims by opening virtual outposts. Yet today the picture looks quite different.
Virtual worlds represent a very important trend in online marketing. Unfortunately, the mass rush to Second Life, specifically, was a fad. Only briefly was it the largest virtual community. Today, it barely breaks into the Top 10 metaverses. In five years people may not be on Second Life, but they will definitely still explore virtual worlds. This does not mean shunning Second Life, but instead putting its growth into perspective.
I am part of the problem. Fads could not exist without the media; we fan the flames. Yet journalists are hamstrung by a lack of the whole picture. Columnists cannot accurately report because we never know how well a campaign actually worked. We can surmise based on public data, but we can never truly know. pr-savvy agencies feed the media hype. As an ad executive and a columnist I have seen both sides of the fence. Perhaps Shakespeare was wrong - maybe we should first kill the columnists.
Believe it or not, Facebook is a bit faddish. Four years ago Friendster ruled, only to be quickly dethroned by MySpace. Currently, Facebook is the darling of Madison Ave., but really it's just a single part of a larger trend. The greater learning, the trend, is the rise of social networks. There are literally dozens of social networks but only a few get meaningful press attention. A real social-media strategy considers them all.
Social networks are ripe for fadvertising. They are difficult to understand and almost impossible to externally measure. I am constantly surprised at how many senior executives don't keep abreast of the industry beyond Stuart Elliott's column. If The New York Times mentions Twitter, the advertising world suddenly shifts its attention away from Jaiku, another microblogging service. Just this January I spoke with a group account director who never heard of Hulu. Perhaps we should call this the Stuart Elliott Effect.
Social media is a trend. Engaging thought leaders to publicly promote a product is nothing new. Using blogs in a concerted manner is a relatively new idea, but it has grown out of existing trends. Trends evolve; fads do not. Only by identifying the underlying benefits of a particular fad can we identify, and profit from, the overarching trend. This is why Madvertising is fadvertising.