The brand in front is a Toyota, oh, and there goes a £20M Pepsi…

“Should we have a Facebook page” or “who’s going to be interested in
talking about X product online” would be fairly typical responses to
any attempt to turn the conversation to such matters. Of course, some
‘cult’ status brands have made some inroads via this approach due to
their ability to naturally galvanize consumers into self-assembling
groups of slightly fanatical ‘advocates’. This was happening anyway,
it’s just that social platforms helped these people to connect with
each other in simpler ways without geographic restriction therefore
increasing momentum.

All of this somewhat misses the point to a certain extent.

If
you’re looking for some pointers as to the true power of social media
and a hint of how marketing, or rather, business will look in the
coming years, you need to look no further than the recent, startling
announcement by advertising giant
Pepsi Co. that it would pull its entire $20M US Super bowl advertising
budget and dump the lot into a huge social media campaign
. Yes, you read that right, the whole $20M.

The
campaign sees Pepsi giving away the entire sum to worthy causes –
causes suggested by guess who? Yes, you, the public. The full details
can be found here

Now,
that’s a pretty seismic event. In the world of advertising, few slots
offer a larger captive audience than the US Super Bowl, meaning that 30
second ad slots go for up to $2M a time. This is an incredibly bold
move by Pepsi – who I guess have deep enough pockets to give such a
thing a try in the first place – and maybe there’s a certain shock
factor to the whole thing which will help to propel this particular
campaign forward, but, looking beyond the headlines, it’s worth
thinking about what’s actually happening here.

Pepsi are
effectively exploring different ways to create exposure and ‘brand
equity’. Rather than spend the cash on flashy adverts in a slightly
underhand attempt to subconsciously influence the masses in a single
sitting (i.e. traditional advertising) they are in fact engaging people
consciously on a one to one basis and – it has to be said – doing an
awful lot of GOOD in the process.

Self-serving, admittedly,
but the end result is the same. The money gets spent, people ‘benefit’
and therefore Pepsi gains kudos, masses of ‘free’ exposure and great
brand association-type feelings that all brands ultimately strive for.

So
there we have it. Maybe we’ve just witnessed the birth of a whole new
advertising model. Admittedly it’s one that’s been gestating for some
time, but now it’s here, will things ever be quite the same again?

What
if ALL advertisers decide to dump their budgets into building
orphanages and healing the sick? Sadly I can’t see that happening any
time soon, but maybe, just maybe we as consumers might start to favor
brands who spend their budgets in a slightly more ethical and
responsible manner than chopping down acres of rain forest and
subsequently posting it in pulped and luridly printed form through our
letterboxes against our will? I guess time will tell, but to me it
feels like there’s something afoot here that isn’t going to go away
quietly. Watch this space.

TOYOTA APOLOGY

As
if all that wasn’t enough, last month supplied a second ‘fall out of
your chair’ social media moment when Jim Lentz, president of Toyota
USA, appeared on the company’s YouTube channel to apologize in person
over the recent ‘sticking pedal’ recall debacle. You can see the whole
thing for yourself here.

Let’s
sit back and examine what just happened here. Things are moving so fast
in this space that there’s a real danger that we could all get a bit
‘yeah, so what’ about this. This is the PRESIDENT of a major
international manufacturing company apologizing IN PUBLIC and IN PERSON
for problems within the business and offering sincere assurances that
the issues are being taken seriously and addressed.

Not only
that, but the medium chosen to offer this apology? Not television, but
YouTube, a social media platform. I don’t know about anyone else, but I
think that’s an incredibly brave and forward thinking move by TOYOTA
and presents the company as a very in-touch, human and caring
organization. You’d be lucky to get a letter of apology from most CEOs
– let alone a personal statement on YouTube and if there’s one thing
that today’s consumers crave it’s power.

We
want our voices to be heard. We want to know that ‘they’ are paying
attention and that they are responding to our needs. The fastest (and
possibly only) way for brands to build real equity in today’s
marketplace is to enter into exactly this kind of two-way dialog with
consumers. Treat us as equals, partners and respected individuals with
opinions that matter and we will flock to you in droves. But disappoint
or mislead us at your peril, for, thanks to social media, we now have
the tools to tear down and destroy what took years of toil and effort
to build, in the blink of an eye.

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