Musings on digital influence
A quick summary of the article, for those of us who love management
“Future influences summary - Marketing lives in fond hope that it continues to be a
the present just as version 1.0 world, when it seeks to digitally influence consumer
much as the past.” conversations with its ‘see-how-good-I-am’ product benefits. Instead,
- Friedrich Nietzsche marketing needs to re-define itself as an entertainment creator with
embedded product placement. This would get the crowd to market the
product for the marketer by fuelling the creation of new desire.
Keen to know more? Please do read on …
Every marketer wants to influence people to think favorably about his brand (in the hope that
this favorable thinking will ultimately convert into purchase). In an earlier age, this influence
was through advertising on mass media. This influence now seeks to transition to digital forums.
And the reason is simple – the viewers have moved on … to digital networks!
The various tools of direct digital influence at the disposal of brands are being well documented.
They are a whole new vocabulary - twitter, social networking, peer-to-peer, blogs, social media
eco-system etc. Many brands have been experimenting with digital influence in spurts and
starts. And then there are those in the majority, who still find this new language to be both
intimidating and bewildering. The net impact - marketers are still struggling to find a seat on the
table full of consumers chatting with each other, forming opinions and making up their minds.
There is a deeper issue beyond just being unable to find a seat. The very idea that
conversations between two people (and the choices they make) can somehow be curated,
molded, controlled or influenced assumes that consumers are inviting the marketer into the
conversation. And this may well be a fallacy.
Convention dictates that, from here on, this should now become yet-another-article that spouts
venom on all that is wrong with the old way of marketing, argue for a new paradigm shift,
sprinkle a new, new list of incomprehensible jargon and pretend to have created a new magic
mantra (the book rights follow!).
In the firm belief that yesterday’s language can only result in yesterday’s solutions, this article
posits an alternative. Rather than asking how ‘conventional’ marketing can digitally influence
consumers, it re-frames the problem – What is the role of marketing in a digitally consumer-
A response to this question is a brave new hypothesis: Marketing is the creation of
‘contagious’ entertainment with embedded product placement.
Once created and sent out into the world, this entertainment will have a life of its own. It will
be shared, mashed, re-mixed, responded, commented, digged, tweeted, uploaded, copied,
mocked, criticized … by people to other people.
There, the genie is out of the bottle! One of the first likely criticisms of this definition would be
that it sidesteps the core function of marketing i.e. satisfying consumer needs and wants in
mutually beneficial ways.
The author’s argument to this is that there are no ‘new’ fundamental needs or wants. The
source-code for marketing today is a series of product innovations that advance (value-add)
pre-existing solutions on some dimension. In most cases, these innovations hasten the solution,
simplify it, multi-function it or make it more elegant in design terms. These innovations, but
naturally, creates new desire in the consumer to upgrade.
Said in other words, people do not need to be informed about how their needs can be fulfilled.
They have the smarts to figure out what they need and the available competing choices that
accomplish it. This is further compounded by aisle shopping in supermarkets and online search.
However, in this choice-driven world, they gravitate towards (or upgrade to) some choices
rather than others because these choices fulfill some ‘new’ desire.
New desire may be under-pinned by the innovative product but, crucially, it is magnified by the
‘crowd’. New desire is driven by what ‘other’ people think. And the crowd only transmits what
it thinks is ‘entertaining’ to the rest of the crowd!
So, here is the new algorithm:
Marketing = f (Creating new desire) = (Product innovation)
Lest this be construed as confusing, in simpler language, marketing is the creation of
entertainment with embedded products with the end goal of creating new desire. Call
marketing the new movie producers, if you may.
Reminds you of how P&G pioneered tele-serials in America? Well, it is back to the future, but
with three big differences …
Difference #1: In today’s age, we need to ensure that the created entertainment is truly
medium agnostic, i.e. ensure that the same content gets transmitted over multiple mediums
like film, television, video, gaming, ringtones, events, merchandise, V-O-D etc. Being more
medium-agnostic directly translates to more reach of your entertainment.
Difference #2: In today’s age, we need to integrate the entertainment with the shopping
experience to complete the consumption circle. Ride the new trend in convergence where
offline media and online content converge with out-of-home shopping spaces. Create that
shopping cart symbol in every medium.
Without exception, all cinema theaters and multiplexes are on the top floor of a shopping mall! And these shopping
centers are increasingly being deliberately designed to become popular youth hangouts. Live performances are
miniaturized to fit into nooks and crannies of shopping foyers. And most spectators experience the event through
the video recording function on their mobiles. An even more futuristic version is already here - Under the new
program from YouTube, viewers of a video with a music track would be able to click on an icon to download that
song directly from a music store (without leaving the site!)
Difference #3: In today’s age, we need to encourage and catalyze consumer experimentation
with created entertainment – Support consumers to be co-owners of the original
entertainment itself. Use collaboration (rather than one way monologue) as a mantra to
connect with the attention deficient consumer
New forms of collaboration between producers and consumers are emerging in the digital entertainment space
across music, gaming and filmed entertainment. And these are best described as 'mash-ups'. Mix tapes, re-mixes,
spoofs, editing with photography and videography and several other such activities have already been driving the
explosion of the co-creation trend. Spore – a recent video game launched by EA has a Spore Creature creator,
allowing users to create their creature. In the final game release, users will play their created creature in a Spore
universe that is also populated by rival creatures created by other individuals!
Marketing needs to grow from the traditional confines of product benefits. It needs to re-define
itself as an entertainment creator. This makes the crowd to become a marketer and fuel the
creation of new desire. Some handy navigation rules in the creation of this entertainment are
to keep it medium agnostic, integrate it with the shopping experience and encourage consumer
In sum, we would be better off discussing digital creation rather than digital influence. Face it;
people prefer listening to other consumers rather than us marketers.
I posted this article on my blog (http://www.subuthinks.blogspot.com) and shared the link with
my social networks for some quick feedback …
Learning #1: More than 280 of my approximately 750 connections read the article. However,
only 18 of them gave feedback. This may be because my social network is not dominated by the
marketing / advertising community.
Learning #2: 15 out of the 18 comments were on private email / phone and not on the blog itself.
Since they were forewarned that this was as entry for a competition, maybe the goodness in
them decided not to ruin my chances?
Learning #3: Almost unanimously, all of them asked for some illustrations and examples to bring
the article alive.
Rather than individual examples, here is one that illustrates all the high-points of this article:
‘Roller Babies’ from Evian. In the week of 13 October 2009, the Guinness Book of World Records
officially declared Roller Babies the most viewed online advertisement in history. Through
November 9th, Evian’s break-dancing infants have racked up a total of 45 million online views
worldwide. What is not as well known is that this content was created ONLY for YouTube.
• Have not seen this lovely piece of work? http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_PHnRIn74Ag
• Also see the ‘making’ of Evian Babies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uQXD9sx-i0A
• Become a member of their 14000 member strong community which is also the tenth most subscribed
channel in France: http://www.youtube.com/user/EvianBabies
• See an interview with the babies: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TO4b2ZeVEaM
• Collect the twelve designer caps of the "Prêt-à-Porter" 2010 Limited Edition Bottle by Paul Smith for
• Do the baby moonwalk: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9a64ySqzM8Y
• Download the song and the ringtone: http://www.myspace.com/rappersdelight09
• Dig into the brand’s past: http://nagonthelake.blogspot.com/2009/07/evian-water-babies.html
45 million views for a critically acclaimed commercial that millions remember and actively
discussed worldwide - any brand would love to take those numbers.
Evian babies highlight the fact that, in a digital future, entertainment is the source code that
provides the fodder for contagious conversations and influence.