Marketing to the Ad-Averse Consumer
PHOENIX -- One-third of the U.S. population between the ages of 17 and 35 admit to avoiding ads altogether, according to a new study released here this weekend at the Association of National Advertisers' annual conference, Masters of Marketing.
According to the study, presented by Steve Berkowitz, senior vice president of online services business at Microsoft, and Laura Desmond, chief executive officer of Starcom MediaVest Group, a Chicago-based marketing communications group, these "ad-averse" consumers fall into two categories:
- The "don't want to be bothered" types: a group composed primarily of mothers whose lifestyles don't allow time for mainstream content; and
- The "be good or be gone" types: more accepting but skeptical, this group comprises mostly young males who actively participate in the online gaming world. In general, this population is not against ads, per se, but are against intrusions.
Traditionally, consumers in front of their televisions believed in institutions and believed in advertisements, says Chuck Brymer, chief executive officer of DDB, a New York-based advertising agency. Now, he says, they're "more cynical" and "less believing." The challenge with today's market is that with the increasingly available technology to block ad campaigns -- DVR, TiVo, pop-up blockers, etc. -- consumers are paying to block messages out as marketers are struggling to squeeze in.
Marketers are no longer addressing a passive herd but an active -- and insatiable -- "swarm," Brymer says. He adds, "Once you become the predator, they'll turn on you. It doesn't matter if they're right or wrong." Therefore, in order to get the attention of the swarm, marketers need to influence
, not demand
-- because influence commands attention.
In order to influence the swarm, marketers and experts agree that consumers must be a part of the brand. It's not just about a company's creativity and belief in its brand, but a collaborative attitude with consumers. As an example, Brymer points to toymaker Lego, which provided users with online tools to design their own Lego creations and the ability to participate in a contest. Lego agreed to make and market the winning design and share 5 percent of the revenue with the winning designer.
Similarly, the core principle behind cable television channel Current TV revolves around user participation. According to chief executive officer Joel Hyatt and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Current TV's creator, there's "absolutely nothing" on the Emmy-award-winning San Francisco-based channel that does not involve some form of participation from the user. Current TV employed the YouTube phenomenon and reversed it. Each user creates a personal "pod," publishes it on www.current.tv
, and other users vote on which video should be broadcast on TV. As of now, one-third of Current TV's content is "VC2" -- viewer-created content -- and the rest comprises videos generated by young professional reporters.
Current TV's Web site also includes "VCAMs" -- viewer-created ad messages -- that exhibit extreme creativity and talent. Viewers, in fact, say that they prefer VCAMs over professionally generated commercials by a factor of nine to one, according to Gore. "Take control of your brand," Gore told the ANA audience, "but let the customer embrace your product." Trust your brand, he added, and trust your audience.
Elsewhere at the conference, marketers learned that obtaining consumer insight is imperative. The way to acquire that insight, according to Wendy Clark, chief marketing officer of AT&T, is to "make the conversation human." Technology is extremely helpful, yes -- but the ideas ultimately come from our minds, she said. "Let the technology enable you," she told the audience, with the goal of combining that technology with the ideas provided by consumers.
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