McDonalds recently brought back its Big Mac jingle as a MySpace UGC contest, while Klondike and Burger King made similar moves. Is Madison Avenue out of ideas, or is there a deeper, cultural force that marketers are trying to tap into? Are online advertising and user-generated content really more about riffing off established ideas rather than starting from scratch?
In this three-part X Factor, I tackle some fundamental problems with branding online and show why we may all be doomed as an advertising medium if we are not careful.
In part 1, I'll discuss the major differences between digital and the most emotive of offline forces -- television -- and talk about why its ability to brand is far superior to anything we have devised digitally. In part 2, I will explain why McDonalds, Klondike and Burger King are poised to tap their brand history in ways other brands can't, and which types of brands should be leveraging user-generated content to augment, rather than brand. In part 3, I will introduce a way to avoid being stuck in a direct response world online, and offer a relatively simple dual-formula approach you can use to get your programs on track, use the online medium effectively and start to break down the barriers consumers face in adopting your brand.
Television vs. online for branding
Ok, let's establish one thing first. None of us know what we're doing. The problem is not just Madison Avenue and the offline luddites who ignored digital for too long and now pitch their high-cost, low-impact, award-designed work to clients. Everyone in digital is the problem. Ok, I'll be a little nicer to you all. None of you are the real problem. It's our medium itself that is the problem; and the available advertising opportunities are the biggest barriers to creating the impact that every digital marketer envisions.
Problem 1: lean back vs. lean forward.
Television is a "lean back" medium. What I mean by that is you sit back and the content gets delivered to you. It is "passive consumption." In a passive consumption medium, the user's grey matter, that lump of flesh on top of your neck, is more receptive to advertising.
The internet, on the other hand, is a "lean forward" medium. The majority of consumption online is a quest to get to an end-goal -- an informational tidbit. The internet is merely the conduit to it. The way you consume during that journey and your receptivity to advertising during that process determines the "annoyance factor" of online advertising. Online ads are roadblocks, speed bumps, mosquitoes buzzing in your ear that distract you on the journey to your end goal. We watch television to be entertained and have information "delivered" to us. We go online to seek out information and "fetch" it. A lean-back medium is one in which the cognitive brain takes a back seat to the emotional input. It is a slow absorption, and those emotions build up as the story unfolds. Because the context remains consistent during a television program, the interruption of a commercial has more of an impact. It jolts the mind. Online is a flit-flit-flit medium of constantly changing context and imagery. The context itself -- the background noise to the advertising -- is constantly in flux and thus often drowns out the advertising.
Problem 2: Long-form sensory immersion limbic impact vs. short-term cortex non-cognitive consumption.
This mumbo-jumbo means that, as a passive consumptive medium, television has the ability to stir highly powerful emotions in us. Highly emotional states secure an experience within the neural pathways in your brain, enabling you to recall that experience in a powerful way.
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