Source of control in advertising as well as brand building is shifting rapidly towards the consumer

IF ADVERTISING IS about ‘Truth well told — now, really well told,” should it matter which rooftop it is shouted out from? Let’s face it; the internet is beginning to make its impact felt. Between the legendary, endearing Volkswagen ‘Lemon’ and the melting AXE chocolate on our computer screens, the commandments of building brands & advertising are being challenged. 

WHAT HAS CHANGED?
To begin with, the source of control is shifting dramatically. It is moving more rapidly to the consumer. The internet is quite like swapping stories around a campfire, only fizzier and better. A recent study of 475 active online consumers revealed that 91% of consumers rely on the Web to get current news or information and about 60% personalise their home pages by adding features like specific content feeds or RSS. Nearly 70% of these consumers read blogs regularly and about 67% regularly watch videos online. The fact is that the internet promises and delivers the fizziest array of entertainment and the most intense amount of information on any subject, with a degree of informality that represents true freedom and liberation for the consumer.

And not just that. Today, considering that the young consumers are becoming increasingly immune to clichéd prime-time television advertising and prefer to spend intimate, one-to-one time with their PCs, truly makes the internet the ‘hottest real estate’. The global economy has also made the notion of personal intellectual space a reality. And while we still lounge with the Sunday paper, the almost second-by-second frenzied analysis of relationship status on Facebook profiles faces us as a stark truth.

The simple truth is people are increasingly empowered and excited by social media. A thought is shared, debated upon, put to poll and clinically dissected across the world before an actual decision is taken. The consumer plays with this hot new real estate and anchors his/her choice on the global experiences of a product. The online medium has become a stage where brands are born, shaped, re-born…A place that is beginning to shape relationships that no other medium so far has had the power to create.

So, where does that leave brands and advertising? The answer is clear. Brands of the future must be strong enough to stand the test of scrutiny based on buzz, opinion polls and evaluations, much like a 360 degree appraisal. They must come out of their comfort zone, move beyond conventional media and leverage all the available tools on the internet. The smarter brands are already innovating, integrating experiences, doing simple things around surround – “follow us on Twitter” and “join us on Facebook” etc. The Sunsilk Gang of Girls (GoG) online innovation that paved the way for an exclusive all-girl community comes to mind. Once a platform for self-expression and a space for interaction, Sunsilk Gang of Girls is today alive with online tools like GOG TV, ‘Life Cannot Wait Moment’ tool, GOG chat, complete makeover machine, fashion content, blogs and viral mails and more to perpetuate the presence of Sunsilk.

Even the traditional Bollywood industry has connected the social sphere to its offline strategies. Before the release of, “Jaane Tu…Ya Jaane Na”, the advertising had Imran Khan interacting with the user on his desktop! In just two days, Facebook served total Impressions of around 6.1 million! When “Lux Provocateur” was launched, the soap was deeply integrated into the Windows Live Messenger platform through Theme Packs that included backgrounds for Windows Live Messenger, customized Emoticons, and dynamic Display Pictures. ICICI Bank affected a media takeover on the MSN India homepage to launch their revamped Internet Banking website! The campaign “Jiyo Online” lived life in another league altogether!

It’s an exciting new world where confident brands will deliver real connect. Once brands throw open the doors of conversation amongst audiences, they also need to responsibly shape them. Last year, a leading pizza delivery chain faced a public relations nightmare due to ungainly videos uploaded by its employees. The learning? It is critical to understand the amazing power of the medium and marry it with the DNA of the brand.

The basics don’t ever change. Great brands will always be the ones that have an inherent ability to anticipate needs, innovate and build unique business models. They will continuously engage and connect with their consumers, be a part of their conversations and listen to them as much as they speak to them.

SO WHAT WILL CHANGE?
The source of control will change. Great brands will recognize that early. And the ones that will lead, will be the ones to come out of their comfort zone, be bold & courageous, leveraging the true potential of this hot new real estate. Online. Get ready to log on. Fast.

The author heads the consumer and online business at Microsoft India.

Taken From “ The Economic Times” 08 June 2010