The Consumer: Behaving Like Pigs

  • by December 2, 2008
The Consumer: Behaving Like Pigs-Paul PartonAbout five or six years ago, we did a billboard for the History Channel to promote a show called The Barbarians. It read, "The barbarians are coming" and was peppered with 1,400 real arrows.

It was one of the most successful pieces of advertising we ever did for the network. Their average rating at the time was a 0.9, and this show achieved a 2.8. But interestingly, we only produced two billboards, one in L.A. and one in New York.

The reason for the success is more obvious now than it was then. What we finally realized was that thousands of people were carrying around clever little analog-to-digital converters in their pockets - what we now call "cell phone cameras." And when someone pointed that ingenious device at one of our billboards and took a picture, suddenly that analog billboard became a piece of digital content. (And if they decided to send the picture to one of their friends, they became a medium.)

In some ways, it sounds passé to even reference ideas like this now. But it highlights an interesting dynamic, beyond the obvious viral effect of good ideas. Regardless of the medium you're working in, if the idea is interesting, it will become digital content. If you accept that, it follows that regardless of the medium you are working in, you have to approach all communications development now with an online state of mind. The more common broadcast state of mind is one in which you project a one-way message about a product or a brand and hope someone pays attention. The online state of mind, on the other hand, is one where the viewer is invited to interact with the brand.

This isn't a distinction based on media. Quite the contrary. In fact, an enormous amount of Web advertising has been created with a broadcast state of mind. (The next time you're online, look at the banner ads and ask yourself which of those could be traditional billboards, then ask which of them invite you into the brand. I think you'll find more of the former than the latter.)

All media - even the most analog - can be approached with an online state of mind. For example, Fat Pig Chocolate is one of our own brands, and its packaging (that most analog of media) was designed from inception with an online state of mind.

The wrapper features a pig's snout, which, when put to your face, allows you to unleash your inner pig. And when you have unleashed your inner pig, you take a photo and upload it to the Fat Pig site, where you can loll around with all the other greedy pigs.

You may be thinking, who wants to act like a pig? Apparently, a lot of people: The idea sneaked online before the brand was officially launched, and one digital image on one Web site begat lots of digital images on lots of Web sites. Now there are about 2,000 pages of content devoted to Fat Pig Chocolate - simply because it's an engaging idea that invites people to participate.

There are clear implications here for media and communications planners. A broadcast state of mind is one that has the planner begin the process by looking for media that can be bought. An online state of mind has the planner look for media that can be earned or media that the brand already owns.

All brands own media. Breakfast cereals own their packaging, retailers own their store windows, banks own their statements, online travel agents own their Web sites. And if a planner is operating with an online state of mind, they'll be thinking about how to maximize the engagement of those media before they think about spending money on media that has to be bought.

The most powerful medium in the world is word-of-mouth. It can't be bought, but it can be stimulated with effective communications planning. Who is the most influential blogger in the category, and how can you invite them into the brand? Are there outlets that deliver a highly concentrated number of particularly vocal buyers? If you can get those guys on your side, they'll start to campaign for you.

Working with an online state of mind becomes a fun process and is more fulfilling, too. It's so much nicer to create communications that people want to take pictures of than it is to create things they try to avoid.
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