It’s that time of the year again. The TV shows we are addicted to are back with new seasons (well, those that weren’t axed during the break at least). And there is a slew of new shows too, making it that much harder to decide what to watch and when.
Among these is a show called Revolution, which deals with the ultimate what-if? What would happen if all the technology existing in the world were to suddenly, inexplicably, shut down? How would we cope? How would we communicate, cook, travel… How would we survive?
I have marked it on my list, of course. And not because I’m a sci-fi geek (hello, Lost and Battlestar Galactica!), but because it’s such an intriguing premise.
Sometimes we forget how integral tech is in literally every single aspect of our lives. We even reminisce fondly about simpler times, when life was slow and leisurely and letters took weeks to arrive instead of seconds. But I’m certain that given a choice most of us would opt for modern living, with all its comforts and headaches. I mean, do you really want to be tossing about in a ship’s hold for months just to get from point A to B? I thought not.
Today, an average person interacts with all sorts of media during the course of an ordinary day. From texting to surfing to tweeting, we are constantly connected to the world around us. Any sort of news, ranging from the pivotal to the genuinely bizarre, explodes around the globe within hours of occurring. YouTube ensures people get to view the ‘evidence’ for themselves (when it isn’t shut down by the government, that is), and once you have seen it, you are free to air your opinion about it.
There is a downside to this, though. The recent furore in Pakistan and other Muslim countries demonstrates this eloquently. A century ago, something offensive produced a continent away would not have ever made it to these shores, and people would have gone about their business, serenely oblivious. Small chance of that now; it only takes mere hours and sometimes minutes, before the spark is ignited. But this is a price we are mostly willing to pay, since we get to be so connected to one another, so distinctly parts of one whole.
And it isn’t just about current affairs. It’s about lifestyle and culture and trends. A Pakistani can box with a Ukrainian through Sony Wii; an Indian can compare notes on the latest Jimmy Choos with someone sitting in Sydney. People connect randomly with each over the ether 24 hours a day, whether it’s on Twitter or forum discussions or a completely new and virtual world on Second Life or Entropia Universe. It must feel like straddling two worlds at once; heady, if occasionally confusing!
So, what does this mean for marketers and by extension, for me?
First, it means media is increasingly proliferated and scattered. Once upon a time, there was one terrestrial TV channel, supported by one English language newspaper. Then, a host of channels and publications sprang up, along with the rebirth of radio. It really is a brave new world out there. Now, we need to be on Facebook even if we loathe the loss of privacy; if we aren’t, we will be hopelessly out of touch with our audience (the reasoning behind the reluctant signing up of a true hermit like me!). We need to ensure we are online because we know our audience definitely is. Yes, even the placid SEC B housewife Googles recipes and household tips and ways to ensure that her china is extra sparkly.
Our budgets need to allocate for ‘digital’, whether we are designing a portal or a Facebook page or setting up an interactive forum. Gone are the days where 90% of resources were devoted to TV. Young people don’t even watch TV anymore; they simply go to Torrents and download stuff, deleting the programme seconds after viewing it – an activity that encapsulates the instant-gratification, easily-bored transience of this generation. Their motto seems to be ‘move on’ at all times, in all things. Holding their interest is no mean feat.
And one sure way to make them watch and listen is by involving them. Interactivity is a hallmark of online media, giving the average Joe a voice far stronger than ever before. Everyone likes feeling important, as though their opinion is sought and validated. For a brand to use digital media effectively, it must have a two-way flow of information. This is the second ‘must’ – don’t talk at the audience, ‘talk with them’. Have them answer you and engage with you on a continuous basis. Brands that do this efficiently have the potential to make a real mark on their target market.
Unfortunately, we are still in the infancy stage of digital media in Pakistan, and most marketers think making a static sort of Facebook page (for lip service more often than not) is sufficient. Yet, unless that page is alive and evolving and constantly soliciting feedback and participation from its audience, it might as well be a TVC online. Because the best aspect of digital media is the increased connection of fans with brands, the empowering that creates a uniquely strong sense of belonging and cements their loyalty.
The American Super Bowl is a perfect example; it’s one of the most coveted events for marketers and the ad investment runs into the millions, if not more. Since the last six years, the audience has been enlisted to participate via the ‘Doritos’ crash the Super Bowl contest’ by submitting TV spots for the brand and go head to head with the pros. Finalists are voted for by viewers on YouTube, and the winner gets a cool one million dollars. This means interested participants are not simply creating beautiful manips and mash-ups; it means they are also interacting much more closely and regularly with Doritos to ensure their final submission reflects the brand accurately and effectively. These consumers are suddenly intensely involved with a brand that might have been on their ‘whatever’ list before.
This should be the end goal of online advertising: the opportunity to bring ordinary people and consumers into the brand’s inner circle and space.
It should not be seen as simply another medium, because it is the one medium that has the ability to transcend generic channels through talkback.
And much more, eventually. Tesco, in South Korea, offers a beautiful example. Professionals are so busy and stretched for time there that a simple task like grocery shopping often becomes arduous. So Tesco created virtual product shelves (exact, real time mirrors of the actual store) on underground subway station walls. Commuters simply use their smartphones to click on the items they want, pay immediately via card and the grocery is delivered to their doorstep by the time they reach home.
In a nutshell, this is our real challenge: how we harness Facebook and Twitter and a host of online phenomena in a way that inducts consumers into our ‘fold’, thus luring them ever closer, and morphing affinity into long term loyalty. And that can only happen when our audience genuinely feels like they are not just part of, but partly responsible for the brand’s conversation with the world around it.