Why Resist Consumer Dialogue?

I just finished reading a sample chapter from AdAge editor Scott Donaton's book, Madison & Vine, which is posted on the website here.

Donaton makes some good points in this chapter about product placement and product integration, including citing some examples of what can go wrong when Hollywood and Madison Avenue collide. "Consumers will reject poor attempts to disguise commercials as entertainment," Donaton writes before diving into an example citing Ford and NBC's The Tonight Show. He goes on to show a few more examples in which a ham-handed marketer goes over the line, making integration attempts both obvious and insulting to the consumer.

The common thread in all these examples? Marketers step over the line when they fail to think of consumers as thinking persons with finely tuned BS detectors.

My takeaway from my casual observations of people watching movies and television shows is that consumers can often spot paid product placement a mile away. And when they do spot it, the reaction tends to be one in which the consumer scoffs at the attempt, which can't be good for brand favorability.



I'm interested in reading Donaton's book when it comes out. But I'm more interested in looking at the value proposition of product placement and what causes it to exist in the first place.

Why do marketers want to place their products within entertainment? Some would say it's due to a fear of the commercial-skipping capabilities of DVRs and general consumer tune-out when it comes to TV commercials. Others would say it's an attempt to get some of the "cool factor" of an entertainment brand to rub off on a product.

Personally, I'd say it's an attempt to preserve the broadcast model. After all, what would prompt a marketer to spend money to essentially bribe the producer of a cool TV show or movie to place their product? It might be the fact that many marketers haven't figured out cost-efficient ways to talk to their own consumers, and prefer to broadcast messages in order to talk at them instead of talking with them. Why else would brand marketers take such a huge risk of setting off consumer BS detectors and having their expensive product placement deals backfire in their faces?

On the interactive side, we see this type of behavior everyday. Advertisers continue to dump money into television, even though ratings are declining and prices are escalating. How many marketers do you know that have vast databases where email addresses acquired on their websites are left to rot until they're expired and useless? I know plenty. These are behaviors typical of organizations that don't want to create dialogue with the consumer, but instead want to treat people as mere targets to be struck with the magic bullet of broadcast advertising.

But today's marketer doesn't have to be afraid of conversing with the consumer. While any marketer might be put off by the prospect of millions of consumers trying to converse with their company about a product, we now have CRM solutions, our websites and other technologies to help us manage these conversations. Heck, you can put up a message board, discussion list or other community feature to help facilitate these conversations in just a couple hours. Why shouldn't Weber provide a discussion list that lets consumers talk about summer barbecue ideas and recipes? Why shouldn't Home Depot host the biggest online discussion board for home improvement?

Why shouldn't any marketer tap into the conversations that are occurring online and take an active role in them? Perhaps it's the fear of moving from the broadcast model to something else.

I'm not saying that broadcast advertising doesn't work. That's where my philosophy on commercial communications differs from the principles outlined in The Cluetrain Manifesto. Product and brand awareness has to come from somewhere. But when we engage consumers, we need to do more with that engagement than continue to whack the consumer over the head with the "buy now" message. Otherwise we're doomed to continue to make the broadcast model the dominant one in our marketing communications campaigns, while broadcast audiences diminish in size and the audiences that remain become more and more resistant to the hard sell message.

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