Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

AdAge just announced Gino Bona, a sales exec out of Portsmouth, NH as the winner of the NFL's "create your own Super Bowl commercial" contest.  And the NFL is not the only sponsor of viewer-created commercials.  Chevy and Frito-Lay sponsored similar contests for their own Super Bowl spots.

Then last week the news broke about the entrepreneurial "J.P" who was seeking corporate sponsors to pay him to propose to his girlfriend during a Super Bowl commercial.  The notion of using consumers to create ads isn't new and clearly consumers are actively creating their own media.  But these last few stories got me to thinking:  What happens now that not only are consumers creating media, but consumer actually are media?  Reality TV is huge.  And I would bet most of us have some fairly close connection with someone who has been on a reality TV show (my ex-boyfriend was fraternity brothers with the guy who "won" ABC's second season of "The Bachelorette."). 

Rather than being comforted by the idea that I can now watch the goings-on of my fellow humans on YouTube or Television, I actually find it really troubling that significant life events (getting married) have been turned into game show prizes and marketing gimmicks.  And what I'm wondering is where will this idea of "consumers as media" stop?  Don't get me wrong.  I watch reality TV.  With the same morbid fascination that made me and my second grade friends mix all the condiments in my Mom's fridge together and eat it until one of us got sick. 

Are consumers really better at creating media and marketing content than are people trained to do so?  Is the purchasing public we really so transfixed by "train wreck" media (you know, something you can't take your eyes off of, even though you know it is bad) that we can no longer discern quality?  Is this part of the larger socio-economic trend that shows fewer, and fewer people are interested in cultural events like the theatre, symphony or museums?

I'm going to go out on a limb and say here that I actually believe that we have not lost our standards, and do appreciate well-composed media that appeals to their intellect or emotion.  In fact I think TV networks will see a "reality TV backlash" within the next 3 years.  TV viewers will demand higher content.  If they don't get it, they'll move onto niche cable channels instead.  I also think alongside of this, the fervor of consumer generated media and marketing will settle down.  I don't for a moment believe it will go away.  Instead, I think consumer generated media will become another, established, medium that smart Account Planners consider when determining the best mix for their marketing plans.  Do you agree?

Comments

re: Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

Good thoughts, Shar. I think the pendulum on the whole "consumer in control" thing has gone way too far. The real issue is that no one has total control today (if they ever did): not brands, not consumers, not media, not societal institutions, not nobody. The issue now is how do we build collaborative relationships instead of hierarchical command-and-control relationships. Consumer-generated media will not replace traditional media -- it is clearly taking a chunk of its hide -- but plenty of people still watch TV. It may be reality, where the subject is "us", but it is still brought to you by Brand X from a traditional media network.

re: Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

Consumers have always been media, but it’s only relatively recently that consumers have become mass media. What was once word-of-mouth spread through quilting bees, pubs, PTA meetings, and the like has now become word-of-mouth spread through sites such as YouTube, Myspace, and blogs. With the advancement and accessibility of technology consumers have simply taken word-of-mouth campaigns to a new level. They can now disseminate their thoughts in the form of a video, photo, blog, and/or audio. The consumer as media is not a new concept. What‘s new is the choice in format the comments can take and the reach and speed with which they can be spread. And as for when it will stop? Never

re: Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

Some consumers probably are occasionally as good as marketingprofessionals at creating content that nails a brand or at leastentertains in a way that hits home for Andy Warhol's 15 minutes.But I wonder if they could be better consistently.In some ways consumers may understand a brand better, perhaps because some really are brand advocates. In key ways they are luckier than the professional--environmentally, at least. Agencies traffic in ideas--largely creative ideas--and consumers who do not toil in career-buildingenvironments have few-to-no Darwinian constraints imposed on theirideas. "Authentic amateurs" can afford to fall in love with their brief-free ideas andcarry them through without the filtering and second-guessing thathappen as many ideas from within the professional organization compete towin. The amateur lives out of the box; the professional struggles toget out. In the professional organization, there may tend to beconsistent B+ level work. In the authentic-amateur world, it stands to reason there'd tend to be widervariation around the B+: the very occasional brilliant conception that makes it to the Super Bowl, yes--but probably also a lot more work that's way off the mark. Even if inconsistency turned out to be the pattern, brand marketers surely have more to choose from than ever before.

re: Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

More important than the content itself is the idea that a regular Joe could put together something worthy of broadcasting to the whole country, and be in it. The celebrity dream that fuels the Hollywood glitz is what makes these compelling to everyone. So, in actuality, these ads don't have to be as good as what professionals put together, not even close.As long as there are media consumers with voids in their lives, celebrity will be coveted, and an audience will exist for this stuff. Will it take the place of professionally designed ads? I think we're approaching the pinnacle of reality TV's share of the market. Or maybe that's just just my hope.

re: Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

So are you saying reality TV lowered the bar creating an opening for sites like YouTube, and now that YouTube can compete with the quality of television programming Television needs to worry? Sounds pretty valid to me.I look at it this way - art (entertainment) is subjective. Professional entertainment companies had the market locked because of the medium, then the content, and now all they have to compete with consuemrs is deep pockets, established brands/reach, established production processes where they are masters of their crafts, and realtionships with advertisers who are now realizing they've been paying a lot of money without real metrics on their ROI.

re: Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

"I actually find it really troubling that significant life events (getting married) have been turned into game show prizes and marketing gimmicks." So do I.Most of these shows earn rating by dehumanizing and disrespecting the participants, who know this is happening, and, in fact, are urged to be as controversial as they can.In my mind, a client with a brand that strives for respect should understand that reality show advertising is not a good media buy. Perhaps it generates short-term sales, but I suspect it harms long-term growth.

re: Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

Thanks everyone for your comments. Sounds like this is a place where we all have been doing some thinking. Maybe because it calls for a massive transformation in brand advertising and because it also threatens the character of and respect for of the individual -- us!Jim, I really like the idea of marketers entering into a collaborative with their users, and their media partners for that matter (which -- as discussed -- may be the same thing in some cases). But of course, even as the marketer-user relationship becomes less formal, marketers will still need a managed process for engaging with them. Who will lead this charge?I also agree with the "celebrity fascination" dynamic to this phenomenon too. The more I think about it, the more it sort of feels like a lazy version of the American Dream. So, if the American Dream is "work hard, achieve unbridled success." This is, "win a contest, become famous." I don't mean to imply that everyone who wins these things is lazy (I just watched the new "Grease: You're the One That I Want" and there are some amazing talents on that show!). But it does seem like reality media also appeals because its a "get rich/famous/married/new house/behaving kids quick" solution instead of taking the hard, diligent way to problem-solving. Then again, some of the most innovative solutions come from people who refuse to take the "traditional" approach. I just want innovation to lead to some improved primetime programming!

re: Consumers As Media: How Far Will This Go?

Great discussions. We have just launched a website, www.adkafe.com, that focuses on the consumer-created commercials concept. This service offers a simple online platform for "the marketers to enter into a collaborative relationship with their users."With regard to Mitch's comment, it's great that a regular Joe could put together something worthy of broadcasting to the whole country, and be in it. My view is that the content is equally important. "Authentic amateurs", as Suan put it, can occasionally create something that are as good as marketing professionals. Maybe viewers tend to consider these "unpackaged" commercials more real, sincere, saying things that they really think. So long as the commercial products are not less effective, and at the same time less costly, why not?