Abandoning the Advertiser Mindset
by Graeme Newell
Stumped on what to buy the Mrs. for that special occasion? Let the good folks at Hearst help you out. In August, Hearst bought the social networking shopping site Kaboodle.com. Think of it as Facebook for shopaholics. The site is a meeting place for people who love to shop and want to accentuate and grow that experience by sharing with others like them.
Take Rita for example – one of their typical members. Rita was attending a special party with a new boyfriend and wanted to look just right. She had found two dresses on line but couldn’t make a final decision. So Rita called on her shopping buddies to help her out. These weren’t just random people. These were fellow shoppers with tastes similar to Rita’s. She trusts their opinion because they regularly chat and share on line about the shopping priorities in each of their lives.
This is really nothing new. Friends have been shopping together at the mall for decades. What is new is that Rita can now get the opinions of people who share her specific passion. In the past, Rita’s mall friends may have been wonderful lunch companions, but had absolutely no fashion sense. Now Rita goes right to the experts – on-line friends who share her shopping prowess and passion.
With sites like Kaboodle, word of mouth is taken to a whole new level. Rita is cultivating her own personal pool of experts, all of whom she has never met face to face. Rita’s dress experience is the equivalent of shopping at the world’s most gigantic mall with a hundred hand picked friends in tow, and the best thing is that all of them are experts in dress shopping.
As trust in advertising continues to decline, more and more people are relying on internet blogs and specialty sites to fill in the gap. No longer is the New York Times the definitive place for book reviews. Amazon’s millions of everyday book reviewers are now the definitive word on literature.
In his book “The Fall of Advertising and the Rise of PR,” Al Reis describes the “friend vs advertiser” dilemma. When I see a product-focused soap ad that claims it washes clothes best, I know that soap company has its own profit margins as a top priority. Sure, they like me as long as I buy a lot of soap, but the minute I stop buying soap, they will not hesitate to abandon me. They wear their self-centered agenda on their sleeve, and who would trust a message from someone who has such an obviously selfish way of doing business?
An honest opinion, even from a complete stranger, is seen as more valuable than the suspect claims of traditional advertisers. Go to Amazon and read the dust jacket on any book. Now read the reviews from everyday people just below. Despite the fact that you know nothing about any of the reviewers, if enough people weigh in on the book, most of us will trust real people a lot more than any slick marketing message. The polishing and fine crafting of the beautiful ads subconsciously puts the customer on guard. The thinking – this is someone who is trying to “sell me something” and I had better be careful that I’m not taken.
Trust in advertising is at its lowest level ever. A lot of this shift has been brought about by the increasingly available pool of user and non-biased reviews on the web. Advertisers are shifting more and more of their budgets to PR. They position themselves as an expert on their own product and join in on the conversation. Niche web sites are their primary focus.
In the past few years, the car buying experience has been transformed. Car ads just don’t have the trust factor of year’s past. Thousands of owners, car review sites, and non-biased companies like Consumer Reports have become the definitive word. Car manufacturers know that these sites are their most effective form of communication and have pulled ad dollars from television.
Car companies are chiming in on the on-line conversation – not as an advertiser, but as an expert on their own product. They honestly answer consumer’s questions on-line. The best ones openly acknowledge product problems and explain how they are trying to fix them. By doing this, they become a part of the community and can build trust in a way that traditional advertising cannot deliver.
The late House speaker Tip O’Neill said that “all politics is local,” meaning that kissing babies, pressing the flesh, and meeting people face to face is the bedrock of building trust in a candidate. New on-line niche communities like Kaboodle and ShopStyle mean that advertisers can now communicate their message in a much more personal, much more effective way.
I listen to The DV Show, a podcast that is dedicated to digital video production. Each week, uber geeks like me listen to breaking news about all the latest video gear. In one episode, Sony sponsored the show. The host had a Sony representative on the show to answer questions about its latest products. The Sony rep answered questions from the audience about the good and bad features. The conversation was incredibly honest. He openly acknowledged shortcomings in the Sony product line, and talked about what they were doing to fix them. He also pointed out exemplary features of the new camera. Everyone in the audience clearly heard his pride and excitement about Sony cameras.
I left this show with a renewed interest in Sony products. The Sony representative showed the digital video camera audience that he shared their passion for tech. He was one of them. He stopped being an advertiser and became a fellow enthusiast. Sony shared its passions and values. It connected with the podcast audience in a way that traditional advertising could never have done.
So how can local news stations get in on the game?
Break the “advertiser” mentality.
Is your promotion a one-way stream of chest-pounding boasts? Are you trying to fast-talk your way into the viewer’s heart? Are you talking “at” the audience or specifically addressing her needs and emotional desires? We often think that if we scream loud and long enough, the audience will simple succumb.
“We have the most powerful doppler.”
“No one has more breaking news.”
“Our weather is the most accurate.”
Remember that the more you scream at them, the more they see your agenda as suspect. Take a hard look at the tone and message of your advertising. Is it all about you? Are your weather promos one long litany of doppler boasts with a cursory “we’ll keep you safe” mention thrown in at the end? When used carefully product feature messages can be effective, but remember that the audience still sees them as “advertising.” They know it is primarily focused on the station’s own self-centered agenda.
Be a catalyst for feedback and participation.
Use your web site to invite comment and participation from the community. Don’t just present the information, join in on the discussions. Juice your forums and get the discussions going. This shows the audience that you consider yourself a part of a community, not just a media organization.
Showcase the web community on your air.
Use the web community as a driver for your on-air product. Acknowledge story ideas from the on-line community. Reference good points brought up in the forums. Use the forums to find interesting people for stories. For example, if you are doing a story on winter storms, start a discussion thread on the forum first, then ask the participants to be on camera in your story. After the story is done, promote that the discussion continues on line.