Video Contest Sponsors: Beware of Drawbacks

April 28, 2007

The number of video contests being sponsored by marketers continues to rise. Brands as diverse as Heinz, AccuWeather and Mr. Clean have gotten in on the act. And in the background is a constant drum of contests at video site Metacafe, and various contest-only sites such as Bix.

Marketers preparing to jump in should beware of three major challenges facing this increasingly popular publicity format:

First is dilution. Contests that culminated by airing winning usertisements during the Super Bowl stood out, but smaller contests since then have competed with one another for attention without the benefit of a large built-in audience.

Second is audience development. Again, the comparison is to the Super Bowl, which is an event in itself, whereas most video contests aren’t.
Third is attracting entries. This may seem counterintuitive given the massive numbers of videos posted to YouTube with no thought to getting paid, but most content worth watching is posted by a small number of talented semi-professional usertainers who are very strategic about what they create, and where they post it. Luring them to produce quality, original content limited to a single contest venue can be a major challenge.


One-to-One: A Powerful Blogging Secret, Revealed

April 25, 2007

Here’s something extremely powerful about blogs that most people don’t know: The blog is the perfect one-to-one marketing device. If you start a blog, you can get just about anyone to read it, pay attention to it, and even respond to it with a personal email.

I’ve started two blogs, and in both cases, I’ve been amazed at how seriously they’ve been taken, right from Day One.

For example, soon after launching them, I sent links to my blogs to a handful of prominent CEOs I’d never met. At the time, practically no one had read the blogs — they were simply too new. One of them had racked up a grand total of 30 views over its brief life up to that point. Yet, I received personal replies from several of those targeted CEOs almost immediately.

A combination of factors makes this kind of response possible: First, free or low-cost tools like TypePad and WordPress make any blog, even by a complete publishing novice, look professional. Second, it’s very difficult for readers to tell a tiny blog from very large and influential ones. Third, it’s easy to create a blog that has strong appeal to very specific audience segments — even, should one so choose, to a handful of highly influential individuals.

Oh, and one more thing — you can give a blog mention to the person(s) or group(s) you want to elicit a response from. This greatly amplifies the three factors cited above — sort of like the difference between just opening a soda and shaking it first.     

The takeaway is that you can send personal emails to highly placed executives all day long and get nowhere: But create a blog appealing to that person’s specific interest, and you’re no longer just you — you’re “the media.” 

As Social Networking Matures, Marketers Lag

April 23, 2007

One could make a strong case that social networking is maturing — with a leading indicator being that if startups don’t aggregate significant member numbers quickly, they’ll promptly lose their funding and disappear.

I would say that “maturity” began to apply to social networking about six months ago, when all manner of “niche” social networks began to appear (appealing to everything from moms to fashionistas to football fans to dog owners).

Yet even as the high-growth arc described by MySpace and Facebook begins to rationalize, marketers and advertisers still have a lot of catching up to do.

Clearly, online social networks score extremely well on the audience-engagement scale — arguably, they’re the stickiest Internet vehicle yet to appear.

But there’s much that remains to be understood by marketers. The formats, metrics, audience tracking, demographic sorts, and even advertising effectiveness of social networking don’t necessarily conform to established norms. All must be worked out anew.

Indeed, it’ll be awhile yet before marketing figures out the social-networking arena.   

Blinded by Video

April 21, 2007

The mounds of publicity continually heaped upon Internet video point to bona-fide opportunities for marketers. But all the clamor also creates a threat.

Here’s why:

Video is a nine-ton gorilla. Just like its older sibling, televison, Internet video is big and powerful and has a tendency to throw its weight around.

But as the most visible and visceral form of user-generated content, video carries with it the risk of obscuring other forms of UGC that marketers should deploy and maximize.

Consider ratings & reviews, social networking, blogs, and even a decidedly unglamorous invention from the last century, online discussion forums: Each is a powerful tool in its own right, and all can be of great value to marketers.

Don’t let video hijack all of your attention, or budget.

Usertising Trickles Down

April 19, 2007

Usertising (user-generated advertising) is rapidly trickling down in the wake of February’s Super Bowl crescendo. Doritos and others scored big-time by featuring usertisements during the big game, and now other marketers are looking to get in on the action.

Mr. Clean and Accuweather are among recent brands to mount video contests, for example.

These more recent efforts lack the spectacular venue presented by the Super Bowl, and perhaps should be thought of more as viral campaigns than as usertising per se. Even so, such follow-on efforts point to a trickle-down effect promulgating from Super Sunday’s hoopla.

As reported in our sister blog, Usertainment Watch, post-game tracking showed that Super Bowl usertising performed well. But the latest examples, lacking the glitz and huge audience commanded by the Super Bowl, would appear to be on less certain ground.

At this stage, perhaps, usertising is less like the crisp play-calling of football and more like free-form rugby.   

Antidotes for Loss of Control

April 18, 2007

A central premise of the user-generated nation is that advertisers and marketers have lost control of brand perception. Indeed, consumers have grabbed the microphone of the marketplace, and they’re not inclined to hand it back to advertisers.

Actually, it’s worse than that. Consumers, once confined to making their presence felt at the end of the value chain via purchase decisions, have become assertive usersumers whose actions (posting ratings & reviews, blogs, discussion-forum opinions and so forth) exert considerable influence every step of the way.

Should marketers simply throw up their hands in response?

Of course not. The challenge for advertisers and marketers is to embrace change, as uncomfortable as it may be.

Control is no longer an option — but understanding the implications of user-generated content and acting intelligently on the new reality will give marketers a distinct competitive advantage. Remember, no one wins when all things are equal — often as not, companies climb to the top by ferreting out and leveraging inequities in the marketplace.

User-generated content cannot be “controlled” in the classic sense. But it can be a surprisingly effective marketing tool — especially if you know how to gain advantage from it but your competitor does not.

The Power of…Gardening?

April 17, 2007

What do user-generated content and gardening have in common?

Quite a lot, actually.

OK, the connection is not obvious at first glance. But stay with me. Gardening, to many consumers, is an engaging past-time, occupying endless hours yet promising zero in the way of monetary gain.

So there (with a nod to author Bruce Sterling, who suggested the analogy in a speech last week) it is: Who, among the 20-odd million Americans who keep a blog, expects to make a penny at their labors? Or what about all those ordinary folks who post endless videos of cute pets to YouTube? And then there are the millions of ratings & reviews, and the meticulously researched posts to Wikipedia.

Give people something to do besides watch TV, and they turn to web gardening.

A better use of time for consumers? Maybe — but if you’re a marketer who’s spent your entire career poring over Nielsen ratings, it’s a worrisome trend indeed.