Crowds assume a starring role in branding initiatives

Mr. T, you can retract your pity because today's consumer ain't "da fool."

Mr. T, you can retract your pity because today's consumer ain't "da fool." Rather than only feature Mr. T in its latest marketing campaign, Gold Promise, a Cash America-owned cash-for-gold brand, will crowdsource the concept of a 2011 commercial starring the iconic character and the winner of the competition. The lines between PR and traditional marketing blur as the company, and a flurry of marketing brands, cede a degree of control to their marketing-savvy and demanding target audience.

Today, consumers possess a heightened awareness of how companies market to them. They also have tangible evidence that their digitally transmitted voice can echo as far as corporate headquarters, as when consumers expressed dislike, via Twitter and Facebook, for Gap's new logo. The company quickly responded and crowdsourced ideas for logo designs. In the end, it decided to stick with its beloved original logo.

True engagement

When leveraged from the beginning - Gap did not have that luxury - Keith Weinberger, president of Gold Promise, explains the strategy provides a cost benefit and interactive promotional opportunity.

"We knew from the brand perspective that Mr. T would get awareness, but we weren't sure if it would help get our message across," he says. "We thought about how to get people engaged and talking about the brand."

The company launched a microsite with guidelines and promotional content, and the in-house creative team posted a mock commercial in which Mr. T goes skydiving. Though the winning consumer will definitely appear in the ad, the company reserves the right to adjust or not use the concept, omitting a risk that goes with ceding total creative control.

"People are more sensitive to lies and exaggerations, and more astute to advertising," says Weinberger. "We're asking them what to do with Mr. T. We're not making claims. We have to be authentic."

PepsiCo, another company known for this strategy, began to crowdsource its Doritos' Super Bowl ad as part of its "Crash the Super Bowl" program five years ago. For this year's Super Bowl, PRWeek reported the company is expanding the program to include its Pepsi Max brand.

According to SVP of beverage communications Peter Land, PepsiCo plans to leverage more consumer-generated content in the future.

He explained in September it is the company's most significant Super Bowl activation that includes a food and beverage brand within the same program.

"Because of technology and social media, consumers have the capability for quicker influence," explains Land. "We are open to identifying more opportunities to bring the consumer in. They're passionate about the brand. Having them involved in the brand development and ideas is better than any focus group."

Consumer influence

Poptent, a platform that offers its 18,000-plus community of filmmakers compensation for producing a brand's winning video, has quadrupled its volume of activity over the course of the year, explains CEO Neil Perry. It's an indication that consumers are, to a degree, dictating brand strategy.

"Some of the big players are companies like P&G and Anheuser Busch, which surprises me because both have iconic brands, have always been very protective of their assets, and have a great lineup of traditional agencies," he adds. "What's fueling it now is there are so many agencies and brands looking for additional video content for all these new venues available to them."

Perry notes that a force behind the trend is cost effectiveness, but it also gives PR agencies the opportunity to develop creative, digital content as part of a larger social media campaign.

Referring to a program he worked on for Intel, via its PR agency, he says, "The door is wide open for PR firms to capture more of the social marketing space."

"They have to get their arms around video content," Perry continues. "They can't just take a nationally run TV commercial, throw it on Facebook, and expect people to think that's relevant."

Mr. T or not, a campaign can only go so far if it doesn't create a personal brand experience. 

Crowdsourcing crowd pleasers Threadless

This summer, the T-shirt design company and artist community, originally built on crowdsourcing, celebrated its 10th anniversary and inked a partnership with Dell as the computer giant was looking to jump-start its own user-generated model

Mattel

About a year ago, the company asked young girls to vote for Barbie's next career on its brand website. The choices: architect, anchorwoman, computer engineer, environmentalist, and surgeon. According to The Wall Street Journal, the majority of about 600,000 voters chose anchorwoman, while adults voted for computer engineer. Female engineers and science geeks took the campaign, and Barbie icon, viral

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