Power To The People

Posted on July 10, 2007

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User/Consumer Generated Content, CGC is on every marketer’s lips these days. But despite frequent use of this acronym, it seems a large number of marketing and advertising people are afraid, scared even, of this seemingly elusive phenomenon as they struggle to get a grip on its true meaning and implications on their brands in a Web 2.0 World. It’s a response consistent with the arrival of any new technology like that of the website and the blog. 

This emotional response and subsequent behaviour reminds me of the 80’s when HIV (then know as HTLV3) made headline news. People were panic-struck. What does this mean in my life? Will we all die? Can I get infected in public toilets? What about kissing? Will I be able to enjoy sex at all in the future? Today, companies are gazing into their magic crystal balls to try to look into an increasingly unpredictable future as they feel they’re slowly losing control…losing it to the consumer.

It’s as if many are afraid that “the truth” will be exposed and that they’ll be forced to play a fair, responsible and honest game with completely open cards. Accepting the new rules of Consumerland is a seismic shift for them. And It’s hard.       

I often hear people in meetings who try to casually throw in the phrase ‘CGC’ in uneasy attempts to appear illuminated and modern as marketers. Underneath their contrived smiles I sense fear and can’t help but feel it’s because many of these people are quite detached from the realities of today’s society; what life’s really like for people in the real world.

Now you don’t actually need to be a technophile or a digital ‘connector’ who camps out on blogs, myspace or facebook in order to realize there’s little need to panic about this. What’s needed is a thorough understanding of the fundamental mechanisms of communication as it generates perceptions in our minds about the world and the brands in it. This hasn’t changed. What’s new is the power for people (consumers) to share and publicise their opinions and viewpoints about brands. This is nothing but a democratization process that terrifies those currently in power.   

This is what all the fuss is about:

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Rob’s recently written a great letter to the Editor of Media Magazine Asia in which he points out, amongst other things, that if CGC is ever going to be able to “compete” against BGC (brand generated content) from agencies it will have to be both entertaining and motivating. AND it must also motivate consumers to act in favour of the brand. This would qualify as consumer-generated advertising, which is a separate thing and a tiny part of CGC. Whilst some sworn brand aficionados in fact produce ad-like stuff, it doesn’t mean the agency world is going to be displaced. But if we’re lucky, it may hopefully serve to naturally clean out some of Adland’s mediocrity, which would be fantastic. 

So whilst many marketers continue to lose sleep over this latest format of word-of.mouth and the potential “amateur ad threat”, one group of people, however, are over the moon about all of this. They are the conference organisers of the marketing world. They now believe Christmas is an all year affair as this new CGC catchphrase helps them sell tickets to conferences that cost thousands of dollars each. Déjà vu anyone?   

Posted in: Planning-related