A Slate article about Microsoft’s new ad campaign linked back to a longer piece about that campaign’s creator, the ad world giant Crispin Porter & Bogusky. That article, from April 2007, mentions that Crispin demands nearly total message control over it’s clients (companies such as Burger King, Miller Brewing, and Volkswagen) and was increasingly taking an ownership stake in the companies with which it worked.
That last piece, the ownership stake, is a fascinating comment on the state of marketing and authenticity in the marketplace today, and portends trouble that may be ahead for companies like Crispin Porter & Bogusky.
First off, having an advertising/marketing company literally buy into a corporate enterprise seems to me pretty close to an admission that isn’t much inherent value to the products the company sells. If your company communications have to be so pitch perfect and well coordinated that you’re willing to cede huge swaths of authority over to a previously outside group then perhaps what you’re making simply isn’t that good.
Second, while it’s long been known that a positive recommendation from a trusted word of mouth source is far more powerful than any media buy can ever be, the ability of people to check in with their sources about products or services is getting easier and easier. In response, marketing companies like Crispin have tried to co-opt trusted sources through campaigns designed expressly to generate social network traffic (like the “Subservient Chicken” website they created for Burger King) or through rigging the game a bit by paying directly for positive word of mouth on twitter, blogs, yelp, and others. While these strategies might currently work, I suspect they’ll have the eventual effect of causing a person’s network of trusted sources to get more exclusive, leaving people even less susceptible to conventional image branding and skeptical of enthusiasm from sources they don’t have a track record with.
All of which is a long-winded way of saying that the future for communicating with customers will be based on excellent products/services and authenticity. (Cue, “if you can fake authenticity…” joke.) And authenticity may not always be compatible with companies that take selling themselves as a goal that’s on par with making things people can get excited about.
And by “authenticity” I don’t mean the canned, “we know you’re being marketed to all the time and are way too smart for our ruse, so we won’t even try to be slick with our pitch” anti-advertising aesthetic that’s been used by every company up to and including Nike, which hasn’t done a non-slick thing (excepting that sweatshop business) since the inventing of the waffle sole.
While branding that creates positive connection between a brand and its market will never go out of style, I wonder if the larger mission for smart marketing companies will be to teach their accounts how to intelligently speak for themselves, from their place of expertise, and to provide them with the metrics needed prove the positive effects of doing just that.