Sharecasting the wealth

Web-based media may be driving consumers’ buying decisions but advertisers need to integrate their brands into the network sites, says Pete Edwards

Pete%20EdwardsThe battle lines have been drawn. The recent lawsuit issued by traditional media behemoth Viacom in the US accusing new kid on the block YouTube of “massive intentional copyright infringement.” More recently, the Premier League’s claim of “brazen acts of misappropriation and exploitation of their intellectual property” again by YouTube, illustrate just some of the fault lines threatening to burst open as the new media economy steals the headlines from the old.

Behind the tensions there seems little doubt that there are massive opportunities, and pitfalls, for advertisers looking to use these new channels. Much has been made of a paradigm shift from a “broadcast” communications model, a one-way “take it or leave it” method of talking to consumers, to a “sharecast” model where the message is democratised and consumers create or disseminate content.

It’s frustrating that there has been little evidence provided to show how this shift might benefit brand owners, other than the noisy oracles simply foretelling the demise of existing models without supplying an appropriate alternative. As a result, we recently conducted a piece of research to get a sense of what consumers were thinking themselves about this growing trend.

The findings were pretty stunning, or alarming depending on your position. We talked to adults aged 16 to 54 to find out which media they judged the best for placing an ad intended to make them aware of various products and services. For new mobile phones, more consumers (30%) mentioned online social networking sites such as MySpace than posters. Just 25% of respondents said billboards would be most effective in driving awareness.

Damning for broadcast media you’d have thought. But not necessarily. Some three-quarters mentioned ITV and just under half Channel 4, proving that traditional broadcasters still have a big role to play. However, focus on the 16to 24-year-olds, the cohort so many brand owners are desperate to court and persuade, and the figures shift significantly. Almost two-thirds (63%) cite YouTube and MySpace as a way of driving phone awareness. Putting them well ahead of ITV on 50% and posters on a measly 20%.

Ask consumers which channels would be most effective in making them actually consider buying a particular new phone – “driving call to action” in old school marketing speak – and the figures shift in favour of the newer channels again. Some 62% of 16to 24-year-olds identify social networking sites as the most effective in driving consideration. This compares to 45% for ITV, 44% for Channel 4 and 25% for posters.

It won’t surprise many that the case seems proven: new channels can provide significant returns for advertisers. But the key question is how to use them. There are already many examples of advertisers getting themselves into trouble when using such channels. There have been numerous instances of advertisers participating in blogs only to be shamefully exposed and find their brand damaged.

We are also seeing plenty of brands simply dropping broadcast TV ads into the YouTube environment in the expectation that this will connect and engage in a way the traditional medium could not. Take the recent example of surf brand Quiksilver, which used its agency Saatchi & Saatchi to create what initially appeared to be a user-generated content film featuring surfers dropping dynamite into a river to create waves (www.youtube.com/watch?v=6xfBNxNds0Q). This had the potential to create a strong and credible word-of-mouth effect but was compromised by the intrusive Quicksilver logo bolted on at the end of the “commercial”. The agency claims significant downloads of the clip, but this misses the point. It doesn’t capture the essence of what the new “sharecast” opportunities are.

A much better example is Channel 4’s use of MySpace to build awareness of its E4 teen drama Skins. The activity is community based and offers exclusive content for the MySpace “friends” to share and interact with (including footage of a Skins cast party that some of the MySpace users had been invited to). It was also interesting that the Skins MySpace activity was supported, even driven by, traditional broadcast teaser ads and that the “sharecast” activity itself works hand in hand with the supposedly “old school” broadcast media. A clue, perhaps, to the way forward.

Pete Edwards is a partner at Edwards Groom Saunders

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