Emerging media is changing the way brands interact with consumers and leveling the playing field for all participants in online marketing. The consumer’s voice, once limited to purchase decisions and word-of-mouth, has the potential to affect perceptions of a wide audience on the Internet. The implications range from meeting the social needs of individuals to opening doors for small players in the marketplace to making large brands more accountable to the public.
By the turn of the century it was apparent the Internet was changing the way brands communicate, but who could have known how it would play out in the next ten years? Marketers salivated at the potential of selling products online, eliminating geographical barriers and increasing their audience. The benefits were appealing. Even though there was plenty of talk about social media networks, the threat of consumer-influence on brand perceptions stayed below the radar until viral content became a regular occurrence. That is when marketers realized turning their brands over to consumers could have positive and negative effects.
Let’s consider a couple of situations where social media resulted in high exposure and positive brand equity. First, the musical group OK Go battled with record labels for years before turning to social media for exposure and fan growth. The release of their breakout video, Here It Goes Again, resulted in over fifty million views on YouTube, before EMI decided to disable the embed function for that video—most likely an attempt to protect artistic property. But to demonstrate their brand strength after going viral, OK Go made a deal with State Farm to create a new video in 2010, called This Too Shall Pass. State Farm’s identity was placed in the video and they paid an undisclosed amount to ensure fans would be able to embed it on their own sites.
Second, large brands also benefit from social media’s viral effects. Old Spice was heading down the path of being your grandfathers deodorant until the Isaiah Mustafa videos went viral, engaging a younger generation of men (and women). Social media provided a vehicle that ignited Old Spice’s relationship with a younger audience and has now come full circle with traditional media in an integrated campaign that includes online videos and television.
Not every social media experience is positive for brands, think Domino’s, but they all demonstrate a change that is taking place. Perceptions once controlled by advertisers with large budgets for traditional mass media are now being influenced in powerful ways through consumer generated content and social networks.