Remixable Media and the Advertising Industry
by Werner Iucksch
“[Kids] aren’t rebelling against the marketers; they want to
be the marketers. That’s the rebellion.”
creative director of Shrine Communications
(in Mason, 2008, p. 226)
The rising prevalence of remixable media is creating a big change in the way
advertising agencies operate. Consumers have always influenced advertising,
but remixing goes way beyond it. The work agencies deliver, the kind of
professionals they employ and the level of control over the work are being
impacted by it. This essay will explore the ramification and implications of remix
culture in the advertising world.
This topic can be discussed in a number of ways, such as how the increasing
popularity of remixable media is shaping traditional advertising (i.e. TV, radio,
print, billboards, newspapers) in terms of visual language, format, values, etc; or
how consumer‐led initiatives are affecting brands (e.g. are the omnipresent user‐
generated “Priceless” parodies damaging MasterCard?). However, this essay will
focus on a particular facet of remixable culture that has a deeper impact on how
the ad industry operates: the flourishing of advertising campaigns that are meant
to be remixed by the public.
As a first step, to understand how advertising practice is changing, it is important
to understand how they used to operate.
The traditional advertising process
Traditional advertising agencies have a fairly simple production process.
Basically they get a brief from a client (e.g. product launch) and through its
various departments, the agency would develop (in this example) the following
1) A strategic proposal showing what is the best way of selling the product
(what are the opportunities, important consumer insights, values that
should be present in the communication and how to take advantage of
2) Creative executions, materializing what the strategy is all about (the ads
as they would appear to the consumers: film scripts in standard length,
print mock‐ups, etc.)
3) A media plan describing where, when and at what cost the creative
material should be placed (e.g. 3 x 30 second insertions on Channel 9
News/day for 2 weeks).
If approved by the client, the executions would be produced and displayed as
agreed. Every message about this new product would be positive, as the
advertiser controls them.
Most of the impact of remixable campaigns impact in on points 2 and 3, as well as
production, as it is discussed below.
The remixing impact on the process
As many markets are getting commoditized with lack of differentiation between
brands, many advertisers see the phenomenon of remix culture as an
opportunity to (re‐)build strong connections with their clients, hoping to
increase loyalty, brand equity and sales, because of remixing engaging nature.
The brand that endeavours into creating campaigns that promotes remixing,
however, is confronted with a series of issues:
A) Convincing the audience to engage in a meaningful way
B) Finding ways of reducing the risk of negative content
C) Distributing the new remixed message
These are not all the issues and they overlap. However, this separation does
allow discussing how the process is changing.
A) Convincing the audience to engage in the remix
Users know that when they are engage in doing a video for a brand, for example,
they are being advertised to and understand the commercial purposes of the
brand. They want to have some kind of reward (e.g. fame, fun, money) and it can
lead to a completely meaningless exchange for the brand, if marketing‐savvy
users just harvest reward offered by brands, giving nothing in return, for
There is an endless number of ways to engage consumers into remixing content,
varying dramatically in complexity and, therefore, its impact on how the industry
operate. Below are some of these ways and their implication for agencies and
1) To give great amount of media material to enable the remixing in a pre‐
defined way. Hyundai USA (2009) launched the “Epic Lap” campaign, in
which website with footage of a test drive was set up to consumers to let
them edit it as they wish.
In this case the bigger challenge is not to produce the material, but to
make the remix technology available. Ad agencies don’t have a history of
developing tools for consumers, but it has to change to make initiatives of
this kind viable.
2) To focus on extensive content on themes relevant to the consumer and
requesting collaboration to keep it interesting. Sprite Australia (2008) is a
good example, as its campaign discusses “unsaid truths” generating
ongoing participation with direct reference from the audience in different
Advertising agencies traditionally don’t master this format, for the usual
distribution and production channels makes cost‐prohibitive to make
longer stories. Getting liberated from internalized old production +
broadcasting mental barriers is a challenge.
3) If the brand/product counts with some sympathy and engagement, such
as entertainment products, there is the possibility of going very deep with
the remixable content. The launch of film “A.I.”, for example, had a teaser
materialized by the interactive real‐time puzzle “The Beast” (Jenkins,
2006, p. 123), encouraging users to remix and create communities around
The skill to create this kind of interaction is closer to that of film writing
than to advertising copy; the kind of software necessary is different; the
metrics to analyse success are different.
B) Finding ways of reducing the risk of negative content
Corporations are looked at suspiciously on the Internet for they usually stand for
hierarchy and control and these are values completely opposite to those
prevalent in most Internet circles (Dijk, 2006, p. 33).
When a company is sponsoring the creation of content about itself it is perfectly
possible for users to mock the company in many ways. GM was one of the first
companies to suffer with it as they enabled consumers to edit and upload
branded videos directly to the Internet. Many users took the chance to protest
against GM instead (Huba, 2006).
There also are many copyright issues. Any given consumer may use
unauthorised songs of U2 to remix a video, for example, the potential lawsuits
are rarely worth the risk. Legal departments have to be more involved and can
effectively impact on the creative process like never before.
As a norm, therefore, most companies will try to create some kind of restriction
that allows them to filter excesses. Examples include allowing the remixed
version to be uploaded to the company’s website only and/or let the remix
become sharable only after approval.
However, that is not always satisfactory and feasible. Consumers can get very
frustrated by restrictions and when the remixed content is text and still images,
it’s more difficult to stop users from spreading whatever they want. This is why
the marketers have to understand well their role in the community of content
generating users. It’s important to keep a constant and respectful presence, not
only talking, but also listening and, most importantly, collaborating with the
community (e.g. new products, content). These are the fundamental stones of
Internet culture (Castells, 2001, pp. 37-63) and should be embraced by marketers.
This is a full‐time job to which advertising agencies are also adapting to execute.
The advertising world works with the logic of campaigns, with well‐defined
beginning and end dates, this has to be changed because the management of a
meaningful digital presence must be ongoing.
3) Distributing the remixed message
In many cases the brands will want the remixed messages to be disseminated as
a fundamental part of the overall strategy. However, as users utilize a network
(e.g. internet) to spread messages and this is very different from traditional
broadcast media. Barabàsi (2003) demonstrated that in networks it’s paramount
to detect who are the hubs to reach the target audience. Getting the hubs to agree
to help disseminate the message is not simple, because it does not depend only
on commercial interests, but also social relationships based on trust. The reach
of a campaign is never as predictable as in traditional media.
This is a significant shift. Social media is “word of mouth on steroids”, but the
logic to make use of it is not straightforward, many things are important to
motivate people to forward their remix and companies are learning with users,
such as the ad agency Fallon Worldwide that recently prepared a case study of
the user generated video “Kittens Inspired by Kittens” (Kelly, 2008) to show how
it managed to reach more than 4 million views and 1.5 million Google citations.
“Remixable campaigns” without a doubt is changing the way the advertising
industry operates. This is, however, a doubled‐edged sword that has to be well
thought before being unleashed. The industry is still learning how to use it now
and gets cut from time to time. Embracing “remixable campaigns” without
having done a good job in the areas mentioned can have harmful effect.
However, the tremendous opportunities to generate more distinctive and
meaningful relationships with consumers are clear. In order to seize the
opportunities the industry has to adjust human resources, formats, control
mechanisms, legal framework and, most importantly, mindset from marketers.
This process tends to be good for advertising agencies, marketers and
consumers. Despite potential losses in the way, the industry might find itself
renovated in terms of capabilities in the near future. Advertisers tend to gain
relevance from consumers as they start to get it right. And consumers may find
the brands more interesting than they are today.
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