MySpace Exec: Teen Users Promote Brands

by , Mar 29, 2006, 6:00 AM
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LOS ANGELES--Marketers need to become cultural anthropologists if they want to connect with people on MySpace.com. "We take a sociological approach to building MySpace, and advertisers need to be cultural anthropologists when they're thinking about their communications strategy on social networks," said Shawn Gold, senior vice president of marketing and content for MySpace.com, during a keynote on Tuesday at the OMMA Hollywood Conference & Expo in Los Angeles.

Social networks, including MySpace.com, are "about individuality and identification and connecting with others," Gold said, adding that kids on MySpace.com are looking to belong, and for discovery, access, self-expression, recognition, confidence-building, appreciation, and building knowledge. "We think that every feature on the site needs to tie in with these core needs."

In presenting a highlight video from MySpace.com, Gold showed examples of how teens are incorporating brand networking into their MySpace pages. One page showed images of the LA Lakers, an Aston Martin, and other auto brands. "Teens are brand networking on their pages--they are trend-setters and they want to be the first to know or to spread something," Gold said, adding: "that's the cultural currency of life on MySpace."

Gold mentioned MySpace programs with Aquafina and the Beastie Boys, as well as Wendy's, which has managed to rack up 94,000 friends on MySpace and boasts a variety of features on its page including downloads, wallpapers, screensavers, AIM icons, slides, audio, and video. Verizon Wireless, the Honda Element, and Toyota are among the marketers that are evolving profiles on MySpace.

Gold offered a few predictions when it comes to marketing to the "everywhere, always there consumer." He said consumer empowerment marketing is a "now and forever trend," that social networks/blogs are a publishing platform for early adopters, and that word-of-mouth has turned into citizen journalism as a trusted form of media. In addition, marketers will step up their focus on brand programming designed to "catch consumers in their stride as they communicate and connect," but he said, "people don't come to social networks to click on the advertising." Marketers that have turned to brand programming on MySpace include Boost Mobile, Best Buy, and TV properties like "The Family Guy." The marketing opportunity is to create mini social networks within a social network.

Marketers can slice and dice the database. "There are thousands of brand programming opportunities that have yet to be exploited," Gold said, citing niche communities on MySpace of DJs, comedians, filmmakers, and musicians. "A marketer could create a celebrity brand of the month because there is so much content that can be sliced and diced." Exclusive and original content, including previews of TV shows like "The Office," and albums ranging from artists like Audioslave and Madonna to Neil Diamond can premiere successfully on MySpace.com.

Gold told OMMA attendees that communications will become more important than marketing, and that choice will lead to an even greater fragmenting of the media landscape. "If an average person is getting 30 visits per day on MySpace, how do you maximize the opportunity? Smart marketers are trying to get onto people's home pages," he said. For example, for the film "She's the Man," MySpace enabled a member to take their Top 8 "friends" and categorize them as best-looking, most secrets, biggest crush, and so forth, and created a special HTML graphic for the feature. MySpace found that 82,000 people accessed the generator application and used it on their home page to maximize their personal reach.

Cause-related marketing on MySpace is growing, Gold explained after showing the video "Life Rolls On," about a young surfer who was injured and paralyzed doing the sport he loves. "Marketers will create cause-related programs that enhance their brand's position in society. Marketers can get behind some of these people."

Gold predicted that event marketers will lead social networking advertising by increasing their contact opportunities to get people more invested in an event. He cited Aquafina's tying in to a Beastie Boys concert for MySpace devotees, in which there was a contest to create a music video and a trip to the Sundance Film Festival for the winners.

As for advertiser skepticism and scrutiny of MySpace.com, Gold said: "Results are the only way to build advertiser confidence. We have enough major advertisers using MySpace right now--it's not who's going to go first, it's about not being left behind." In addition, "to really capitalize on the future and efficiencies of media, marketers need to credibly insert their message." Gold explained that walled gardens exist on MySpace where an advertiser doesn't have to be on a person's page, but can appear on the site's home, TV, and music pages where there's "exceptional reach."

MySpace stands for "empowerment of the individual" and "now you have this exceptional efficiency and intimacy to reach people. Advertisers somewhat have to unlearn tactics of traditional media in order to take advantage of it," Gold said, adding: "We know the audience really well, and we won't let advertisers do something it won't accept."

During a panel discussion after Gold's keynote, Doug Neil, senior vice president, new media at Universal Pictures, said his team is leveraging consumer-generated media to create buzz around the upcoming film "Slither." "It's all about personalization and customization. We allowed fans the chance to create their own 30-second spot for the film, and the winning spot will run in one of our TV ads," Neil said, adding, "We're empowering consumers to be part of the marketing message and to spread it virally." He hopes the effort will build awareness for the film by getting people involved early in buzz-building. Neil added that Universal put nearly 30 percent of its marketing budget into online media.

Gold said advertisers can deploy MySpace users and fan clubs to do their marketing for them, and added that MySpace is actively looking at how users can control which advertisers appear on their profile pages.

Some MySpace fast facts: As of Tuesday, there were 66 million people on MySpace, with 230,000 people joining each day on average. By year-end, that number is projected to reach 98 million. About 90 percent of MySpace users are from the United States.

MySpace is the No. 2 site on the Web behind Yahoo in content consumption. About 15 million log on to the site, 30 million songs are streamed, 11.5 million friends are added, and 15.5 million comments are left each day.

To the MySpace generation, "MySpace is not technology. A user's profile can be thought of as a metaphor for their life or apartment. The profile is a characterization of who users are, and they want to express themselves creatively," Gold said.

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