Thursday, November 8, 2007

You must participate

Even though I'm a writer, I have a thing for Web 2.0. Social networks, blogs, SMS, widgets, that sort of thing. I like them because they're marketing tools that "don't just show life to people, but make them live."

To invoke Guy Debord in an essay on marketing tactics is to dare the wrath of a hundred thousand college sophomores. Situationist International wasn't known for purchasing Nikes. But maybe it should have been. After all, "Nike killed the three martini lunch." (And who am I quoting there? Fenske?) Without a raft of ads encouraging us to "just do it," those who can take lunches would probably spend them hitting the bar instead of the barbell.

Nike got rich using traditional media to promote an active lifestyle. But everything top-down advertising does, Web 2.0 does better. It lets people connect based on affinity instead of proximity. It lets local actions take place on an international scale. It gives the people access to the powerful. Perhaps best of all, it tests the concept of juristic personhood by daring brands to live up to their legal status.

And for all the good it does, Web 2.0 only has two real downfalls. It immortalizes everyday language, holding it to an impossibly lofty standard. And it encourages content creation so much that it has confused shamelessness and celebrity. (I wrote a despondent essay on the latter issue; someday I may even post it.)

I think most marketing people buy in to the idea that Web 2.0 is an opportunity for brands to engage with consumers. But how many understand the flipside? Web 2.0 is an obligation. Because consumers now expect brands to make life better. And so Burger King creates a game and Target builds a Facebook group and Adidas shoots a practice film and ESPN makes a widget.

See what I'm getting at? Traditional advertising asks consumers to pay a premium for a product based on brand equity. Web 2.0 asks consumers to pay a premium for a product based on brand utility.

Web 2.0 marketing is perhaps something Debord would have welcomed, if he could have forgiven the spectacle of it all. Because while a brand can't make you live, it can now give you tools and opportunities. That's something that a print ad simply can't provide.

Crossposted on Karsh Connect.

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