Consumer-generated ads and General Motors

This is probably old news to some of you, but I find it fascinating that Chevrolet is allowing consumers to create their own ads for the new Tahoe. As you can imagine, some consumers have created some very critical ads. However, I applaud General Motors for finally taking some risk. I’m sure the authors of “The Cluetrain Manifesto” would also applaud this bold move.

There is no doubt in my mind that we will see more of this. This is the start of an open and honest dialogue between General Motors and their customers. Is the dialogue always going to positive? Of course not. It isn’t always positive offline, but it is too easy for General Motors to ignore private customer-to-customer conversations. It is a bit different when the conversations are out in the open, staring them in the face.

Sam Decker calls this “customer oxygen”. No matter what you call it, it is healthy. I have long believed that a company should design its products with customers. That may sound obvious, but it’s not. I created Coremetrics, a successful Web analytics business, based on the premise that companies like Accrue and NetGenesis had failed to do this. And their customers defected quickly.

Then I read Ron Bloom’s, the CEO of Podshow, article on “advertising 2.0”. Outside of the fact that there are too many 2.0 terms, I agree with Ron that advertising must evolve. We are more cynical than ever about advertising because we are more educated. If you are reading this blog, you are likely far more educated about marketing than most consumers. And you are probably much more likely than most consumers to ignore advertising altogether – skip it with your TIVO, read news online via an RSS feed, get the straight scoop from your friends. The question is – what form of marketing works or is going to work on you? Is it “keeping up with The Joneses” all over again? Only this time, you actually trust “The Joneses” more than you trust any corporation.

Every social networking, blogging, user-generated content, “authentic media”, and Web 2.0 company has a common goal in mind: monetize their business model with advertising. There are a ton of venture-capital and public-market dollars chasing this aim. My bet is that several will evolve entirely new forms of advertising. For some, the bets are already paying off. Last I heard, Facebook is making over $10 million per month on advertising and the buzz is that it may be acquired for as much as $2 billion. And you probably heard what Rupert Murdoch’s #2 is publically saying about their acquisition of MySpace. Considering the Murdoch empire and the newness of social networking, that is a pretty mind-blowing statement.

In full disclosure, my wife, Debra, just bought a new GM SUV after trading in her Volkswagen SUV, an unfortunate lemon of lemons (it actually pains me to write that after many years of loyalty to Volkswagen). I also bring this up because I found myself genuinely impressed with the 2007 redesign of the model she bought, and I wonder if Bob Lutz and his team are really starting to figure it out by listening. It is the first American car that we have ever bought. Imagine how odd it would be to read that statement if we lived in the 1950’s instead of the 2000’s.

Report from SXSW Interactive “Convergence in Advertising” Panel

Last week, I participated in a panel discussion at the SXSW Interactive conference held annually here in Austin. The title of the panel was “Convergence in Advertising”, and I was joined by executives from companies in the educational media, advergaming, and social media fields.

The growing importance of consumer-created content

In turn, each panelist discussed the growing importance of consumer-created content and the impact of this content on traditional advertising practices, client relationships, and consumers’ brand perceptions.

My presentation focused specifically on customer reviews (surprise!) and on the opportunities available to leading brands as a result of the proliferation of consumer-created content and the many platforms that now exist to support content creation and distribution.

Convergence Meaning

Before going down that path, however, I talked briefly about what convergence actually means to me, given my perspective at Imsurfsentinel. Convergence is a frequently used term, and it seems to mean just about anything you need it to mean to support your business strategy or model! For me, however, convergence means or describes three things:

  • Convergent technologies are those that make the key “end uses” of consumer technology, such as media consumption and content creation, accessible in a near-ubiquitous fashion, through always-on connectivity, portability, integration, and good old device and network performance and capacity. As I presented at SXSW, audience members posted in real-time to their blogs from laptops and high-speed wireless connections.
  • Convergence describes the multi-directional conversations that are now occurring between and among brands and consumers. While traditional advertising “communicated” in a one-way fashion, convergent advertising is just the opposite. Brands now increasingly rely on feedback from key consumers and conversations with influentials to refine their business strategies, and convergent technologies enable this process. Soon after deploying customer reviews, Golfsmith found an opportunity to reach out to a very vocal customer (and reviewer) located right in Austin, where they are headquartered.
  • Last, convergence means that advertiser- and consumer-created content are beginning to merge. From the early beginnings of contextual advertising to emerging social media platforms like FilmLoop, “content convergence” is a powerful new force in marketing and advertising. Imsurfsentinel clients are inviting this convergence by offering their customers the ability to write and publish product reviews, which may ultimately be used in both on-site and off-site advertising programs. For example, PETCO now uses excerpts from actual customer reviews as copy on its web site and in its email newsletters.

In summary, convergence is a complex and disruptive force but one that advertisers must embrace and learn to leverage. At Imsurfsentinel , we are trying to facilitate this for our clients by providing an ROI-focused application of technology and content convergence.

By continually enhancing our functionality for enabling content creation and distribution, we hope to increase the overall quality, relevance, and authenticity of this content, while also increasing its reach. Looking further out, we see enormous potential in supporting mobile devices to enable consumers to access a product review, reviewer profile, or other community content on demand while he or she is on the go. Stay tuned . . .