The Age of the Branded Action

For the last decade, marketers online have tagged and tracked, extrapolated small activities into perceived signals of “intent” and otherwise tried to read the tea leaves of online behaviors to glean and influence future action. Mobile media is poised to make those practices even more powerful by adding the layer of location to the data set. Given the correct opt-ins and permissions, the relatively two-dimensional plane of desktop surfing is massively expanded by adding the dimension of movement in and about precise points in the world.

Fine. I look forward to testing and covering these instances for the next five years, just as I have for the last five in these columns.

But I started musing a bit the other day in my daily MoBlog about the ways in which mobile platforms can change the polarity on our thinking about “behavior.” At Cannes this week, Google and Grow Interactive won the Mobile Lions Grand Prix for their reimagining of the famous Coke hilltop ad “I’d like to buy the world a Coke” as a cross-platform user engagement in which people could indeed buy others Cokes around the world. In short, the campaign took a classic of lean-back mass media of the 70s and demonstrated how interactivity, massive connectivity of devices and mobility could turn it into an occasion of highly personal participation and action.

It is worth musing further, because Coke/Google/Grow’s campaign was not the only Cannes winner to embody this idea of what I will dub the “branded action.” The Microloan charity of London won a gold Lion for a “Pennies for Life” campaign where SMS donations completed digital portraits of the African businesswomen the drive was intended to support. Your virtual “pennies” became visual ones in public that completed these portraits.

A Russian city newspaper created an app aimed at relieving the problem of illegal parking by allowing users to snap pictures of improperly parked cars and then have them fed into dynamic mobile banner ads geotargeted to those locations. It was a strange exercise in public shaming, appropriately called “Parking Douche.”  

British TV’s Channel 4 issued a “Street Tag” app that served as a virtual spray paint can, allowing people to post virtual graffiti on the streets.  

What interests me about these examples is the way in which they reverse the polarity of digital marketing from following people’s behaviors to collaborating with users on behaviors and actions in the world. Rather than seeing mobile technology as a mere extension of the Web and as an opportunity to follow and target people closer to point-of-sale or closer to the moment of inspiration, these campaigns exercise a new reflex. What if we imagined mobile as a consumer tool in the world that a brand has the opportunity to sponsor?

Even as smartphones seem to marketers like little computers in one’s pocket, it is a mistake to think of them as miniature and portable desktops. There is a reason why the first media formats to succeed on mobile were highly personalized -- SMS and ringtones. Both formats came out of nowhere and represented incredibly low-bandwidth types of media. SMS was the opposite of the bottomless Web. Ringtones on feature phones were sub-low-fi. But both media allowed users to communicate with one another and to broadcast to the world in highly personalized ways.

This notion of empowering people to take action on the world, to express themselves in this world, is going to be enormously powerful. The brands that get that about mobile devices are the ones that will move us beyond the simple-minded “mobile-as-next-Internet” thinking. The transformation here is not just toward personalized media but actionable media. It is not just connectivity back to the Internet, but connectivity among devices in the world in real-time.

David Verklin made famous the phrase “data is the new media,” which almost certainly is true. But mobile helps us rethink that a bit more. Perhaps action is the new media. 

Tags: cannes, mobile
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3 comments about "The Age of the Branded Action ".
  1. Tim McCord from GMR , June 21, 2012 at 1:44 p.m.
    This is the most insightful take on our mobile future, in the pithiest presentation, I've come across. The fact that it weaves in case studies as support (award-winning never hurts) only reinforces your point. Mobile as a consumer collaboration enabler is the core of its future marketing potential. And presents unbounded brand integration and sponsorship opportunities that havent even begun to be tapped. Thanks for a refreshing, and thought-provoking POV.
  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited , June 21, 2012 at 1:53 p.m.
    Caveat: Mob rule via mis-information expecting immediate gratification with shortest term memory/focus. The pony express lasted only 11 months.
  3. Robert Brazys from DataXu , June 21, 2012 at 2:59 p.m.
    @Tim McCord - I agree whole heartedly. The brands that are 'getting it right' when it comes to mobile are those that can shed off the old assumptions about what the 'message' should be, and embrace the unique possibilities and responsibility we have when we communicate to people on their most personal of devices. If you can spark the imagination and motivation, you gain access to all the features available on the device. @Paula Lynn - Smartphones are the fastest spreading technology in the history of mankind, it is still evolving yes, but wireless connectivity is expanding and getting better everyday, no plateau has been hit yet.