Because magazines determined that 2006 was the year that your friends (but not you) had the greatest impact on the world and marketing, the shortlist for 2007 is likely limited to dogs, plants, and robot vacuums.
And now that the media have bestowed their platitudinal approbations, corporations encounter the difficult decision of determining exactly what level of cooperation to expect and what level of involvement they will allow consumers to have.
Most headway has been in the field of marketing. Super Bowl XLI, to be played on Sunday, February 4, will feature three spots from Doritos, the National Football League, and Chevrolet, each including some level of consumer involvement. Doritos takes the most "daring" mantle, by actually featuring the consumer's version of the winning commercial. The others are only soliciting ideas.
Early signs will not please consumers who are banking on the environment to give power to new voices. Take, for instance, the five finalists for Doritos' ad. They are, to a one, indistinguishable from the rest of the low-brow, "dudes with their chips!" fodder created by professional advertising shops. They're not horrendous, but they're not good. This is progress?
The campaign itself might be to blame - perhaps, for all its purported edginess, Doritos went for the most familiar of the spots. And that reeks of "blogwashing," playing the "consumer solicitation" card while ending up producing a similar product.
But to one who follows the marketing industry, this is not a shock, as too many people have mistaken the presumably infinite opportunities afforded by consumer engagement as a way to get free help to do the same old thing: have people market products after they have been created by someone else. The much-lauded examples of the intersection between consumer-generated content and marketing pros have not been terribly exciting.
Maybe companies are bringing consumers (and marketers) in at the wrong time.
At least one company, audio device manufacturer Slim Devices, is onto an interesting idea: enlisting its community to help design its products.
Dean Blackketter, Slim's CTO, explained the collaborative process to Fast Company.
"The hardest part is giving up control," he said. "A couple of times, I've been this close to doing it my way, but they" - the people in the community - "changed my mind. Their hearing is better than mine, their ideas are better. They're doing it because they love it."
As I've advocated before, the marketing department (as well as the sales team, and even the secretaries) should be at least a small part of the design and product creation process. Maybe customers should be, too. Only then can companies harness the excitement and collective power of the community to help market their products. Otherwise, the script stays the same. Nothing changes but the credits.