The Consumer: We All Want Our 15 Minutes
Meet the latest online video star: Adam Schleichkorn, 25, who has become famous for "fence plowing," or jumping into a fence at full speed to knock it down. "A week ago, no one knew who I was - now my name has been on every news and talk show," the Huntington, N.Y., resident told The New York Times. "So I'm known as the fence-plowing kid," he continued. "At least I'm known."
And what has this got to do with media and marketing, you ask? Just this: For all the talk about consumers becoming more involved in marketing and advertising, few regular Joes are out there waiting to promote someone else's brand. The reality is, the consumers who are creating content are doing it to promote themselves.
The idea that people all over America have a burning desire to involve themselves in marketing suggests some kind of commercial altruism. But, sadly, people in general are not altruistic. On the contrary, people usually act out of pure self-interest - particularly when it comes to marketing. At the end of the day, regular people don't think nearly as much, or as often, about brands as we professionals do. A brand is not important to them - unless it provides the means to some other end.
Was Adam Schleichkorn acting out of a genuine desire to provide free entertainment to thousands of YouTube watchers? No, he wanted something out of the deal. Specifically, to direct people to his YouTube page, where his "more serious projects" are housed (those ventures include the films and commercials he produces).
Consider also the much-hyped five consumer-generated Super Bowl spots this year. Were they created by regular folk who had a desire to tell people about the brands they loved?
Dale Backus, who created the winning ad for Doritos, recently gave up his safe job to open up his own firm specializing in - you guessed it - creative video production. My guess is that his firm attracted a little attention as a result of his success.
And Gino Bona, who won the NFL competition, is the director of business development for an ad agency in Maine by day (he's also done a bit of copywriting), but his real love is writing sports columns for ESPN.com. Maybe he'll get to write some more.
Commercial altruism or bald self-interest? It's pretty clear, really.
The same applies to the supposedly deeper consumer involvement in the marketing process that's attracted press attention recently. It's been reported, for example, that Ford, Chrysler, and GM are using consumer feedback to influence engineering and design, as well as their communications strategy.
Something new? Not for more nimble companies, I'm glad to say. Consider this saw: "The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well that the product or service fits [him] and sells itself."
Is that timely commentary on carmakers' move toward customer involvement? No, it's Peter Drucker defining the role of marketing - in 1973!
A number of companies have paid heed to his advice over the last 30-plus years and solicited the input of their customers in marketing decisions. They called it research. And as anyone who has ever conducted any research knows, the primary motivation for the participants isn't a burning desire to contribute to the betterment of the brand; it's the fact that they're being paid.
There's one exception: The fans. For them, there is reward simply in being involved with the thing they love. They don't need to be paid. And they know the product and brand inside out - which makes them an invaluable resource. But they aren't regular people, and you can't market to them in the way you market to regular people.
So what does this all add up to? Well, it means that marketers will be able to get research and creative ideas for free that they once had to pay for.
But it's hardly a new paradigm, epoch, or movement, as it's been described. Rather, it's just people acting in their own interests, and profiting from it.