Ad Media Specialists Must Embrace Consumer-Generated Media

Please join the discussion and comment here on my latest MediaPost OnlineSpin column, where I challenge advertising and media specialists for their naive entries into the world of consumer-generated media:

Ad Media Specialists Must Embrace Consumer-Generated Media

By Max Kalehoff, August 4, 2006

As advertising dollars continue to bum-rush the Internet, many media specialists contend that blogs, discussion groups and other forms of consumer-generated media represent easy, additional inventory to grow and satisfy demand. Indeed, several of the biggest media companies–like Yahoo, MSN, News Corp., IAC and others–are placing big bets on the promise of consumer-generated media as ad vehicles. CGM has arrived as a center of gravity, and advertising is following.

But I fear that too many advertising and media specialists are jumping in head-first with little appreciation or respect for this new world, which is fundamentally different. Unlike most other media, CGM is generally for, by and all about the consumer. Media departments, both traditional and interactive, should slow down and better understand the world of CGM before applying traditional conventions, which are often rooted in oversimplified constructs of controlled impressions, reach and frequency.

So what are some of the new dimensions that media specialists need to embrace?

CGM = Extreme Intimacy and Interactivity

First, it’s important to note that levels of audience interactivity and intimacy with CGM can be extraordinarily high. The fact is that media buyers have a legacy of paying for eyeballs by placing ads primarily in low-engagement, impersonal and passive vehicles. But in CGM, especially when passionate audiences are actively participating and communicating with one another, sensitivity to surrounding advertising messages has potential to increase dramatically while tolerance decreases. (A good analogy is those interruptive telephone solicitations we all used to get at the dinner table. Thank God for the Do Not Call registry!)

Of course, there is a wide spectrum of interaction and intimacy across CGM platforms: personal blogs, real-time chat rooms, private chats, public discussion boards, password-protected e-mail groups and a host of other venues. And there is no absolute rule for what different points along those spectrums mean for the effectiveness of different forms of advertising. But the fact remains: these two dimensions differentiate CGM from other media vehicles and should be watched for their potential impact, good or bad.

CGM Niches Require Greater Contextual Acumen

Second, it’s important to note that CGM is not only prolific, but seemingly feasible as an advertising vehicle thanks to aggregation and networks. But that newfound reach is complicated by vast niche content, which can equate to huge content variation and unpredictability. That means smart, automated and contextual targeting tools and strategies are critical. This is true for placing ads in contexts where you want them, and where you really don’t.

Becoming A Participant Necessitates Non-Advertising

With so much money pouring into the Internet, media departments are increasingly moving beyond advertising on CGM platforms and into the role of active participant. While media professionals have impressive budgets and skills in paid-media planning, too often that expertise brings approaches that clash with the norms of uncontrolled social media.

Disruptive, abundant, irrelevant, self-congratulatory or exaggerated communications (or often gimmicks) may be tolerated in paid, one-way media, but the game changes with CGM. Becoming an active participant in CGM means entering into direct conversations with consumers, where there is a far greater expectation of humanness, honesty and transparency. There is an expectation of conversation and social exchange, specifically not advertising. Respecting this core rule of most CGM venues is paramount.

CGM: It All Starts With Customer Respect and Listening

Is CGM an area media specialists should avoid? Absolutely not! While CGM can seem a strange and unwieldy place, the reality is that it is here to stay and is likely to grow in importance. Media specialists must embrace it.

But more important than a new advertising medium or venue in which to hawk products, CGM represents one of the most powerful listening devices advertisers and their media specialists have ever had. CGM represents a massive, public megaphone for the consumer, aimed straight in the ear of the advertisers. This is enabling consumers to hold advertisers more accountable than ever before–accountable for their products, customer service, competitive differentiation, value and, yes, the integrity of the very advertising and marketing communications themselves! CGM is helping to dismantle many of the artificial walls that traditional paid media helped to create between advertisers and their customers.

So what is the bottom line with CGM? Whether in the context of media planning or active participation, media specialists must respect the consumer like never before. And there is no better way to embrace this notion and all its nuances than to heavily engage in CGM as a consumer, yourself.

Again, read and comment on the MediaPost blog here.

Published by Max Kalehoff

Father, sailor and marketing executive.

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