Commentary

Good Times For Networks As Others Deal With 'Global Enraged"

Attendees working for TV networks had to feel a sense of relief Monday following a jarring kick-off to an advertising research event. How nice to be in their business where global consumers seem to covet their content more and more – albeit if DVRs and online streaming may be causing some disruption.

Contrast that to big marketers and government institutions. Listening to J. Walker Smith, things are scary across the globe for them. Both are struggling to fend off anger from a class of people tabbed the “global enraged,” a group still smarting from the economic downturn and overcome with distrust.

They are frightened. They feel forsaken. They are riled up.

These are some “very perilous times,” warned Smith, who advises marketers and delivered the keynote speech at an Advertising Research Foundation annual conference.

Simply put: the troubled entities need more than just a couple of hits to turn around their fortunes. Bringing back a cancelled show for a while to placate a rabid niche won't do it. There are some foundational issues that make winning back consumer affection daunting.

“What really makes this of concern to us is that these people who are expressing this anger who are taking to the streets are the middle class,” said Smith, executive chairman of WPP’s Futures Co. “This is not fringe environmentalists who are trying to shut down the WTO. These are people that we market to. All of our brands have long depended upon having a strong connection with the aspirational middle class and it is that group of consumers who are now the 'global enraged.'”

Expanding on the outrage, Smith said: “It affects every element of the purchase funnel.”

It was early in the morning when Smith took the stage, but it was some wake-up call as he spoke sternly throughout. There was no trace of the engaging, welcoming smile he offers in his photo on the Web site of the Futures Co., a global consulting firm.

What may have been most disturbing for a marketer is Smith was issuing his admonitions at a time when some (at least in the U.S.) may think a financial turnaround is starting to take hold.

After the fear, Smith shifted to advice. All is not lost, largely thanks to social media. He said new marketing strategies capitalizing on it offer an opportunity to embark on a recovery and find success in a “kinship economy.”

But it sounds tough. It’s nowhere as easy as building Twitter followers or racking up Facebook likes -- which itself is hard.

Trouble is that people love social media, but generally they don’t really want to engage with brands. When they intersect with them online, it’s not friendship. Smith referenced some research showing people socialize with advertisers to get discounts.

The “kinship economy” lies in a marketplace for building engagement. The concept Smith presented seems to involve a balance between subtlety and transparency. It’s finding a way for a brand to be welcomed into social media conversation, rather than banging down the door. As kinship implies, it’s becoming part of an online family.

Smith said marketing in the future is “going to be about bringing people together in a new model that reengages people who are becoming increasingly disillusioned with what we have to offer.” Key is using social media tools to “facilitate what consumers want to do, which is to interact with one another.”

Brand-created social currency, where people are the bankers and empowered, can help grease that wheel -- whether a person has a chance to pass along a coupon or swap home improvement tips (Smith mentioned he liked how Lowe’s seeded that with a Facebook app).

Back to TV marketers for a moment. Yes, they are not facing global revolt. The most notable demonstration recently may have been when Netflix – which calls itself an “Internet television network” – raised prices and sought to split off its mail-order business. Still, finding a way to cash in on the "kinship economy" can only help. Fortunately for them, they have plenty of time. 

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