Friday, November 04, 2005

Channel-surfing to the future

Columbia University offered a preview this week of the media that will likely carry your marketing messages to the public after conventional advertising loses its sway. Which should be around next Tuesday, if the session participants had an accurate read.

The seminar, offered through Columbia’s vaunted Graduate School of Journalism, was intended to ease communicators with a print or broadcast bent into a scrambled world where consumers' info pipeline of choice could be a pair of iPod ear buds. Several presenters indicated that the traditional ways of shaping commercial impressions--like television commercials--are already being rivaled.

One of the scarier new methods was suggested by Craig Newmark, the founder of If you don’t know what that is, you a) are likely over 27; b) probably haven’t been in the market for an apartment since fajitas were the new big thing; and c) may not realize that break dancing is passe. It’s probably as interwoven into youngsters’ lives as the nightly news was in older generations’. Strictly speaking, it’s a classified-ad site, primarily for persons looking to rent or sublet apartments. But around that function have sprouted message boards and other means for visitors to communicate with one another, resulting in a tight-knit community that shares information on everything from love to lava lamps. Food is definitely one of the major nodes of discussion.

The potential danger, Newmark suggested, is the opportunity for scalliwags to disseminate opinions and feedback that are purposely skewed to serve an unstated agenda. Like political sympathies, or perhaps even payment from a viral-marketing company. Posts lauding a chain's new sandwich would likely convince some List-heads to give it a try, the way their parents or older siblings might have been prompted by the luscious food shots in a 60-second commercial. But messages could also slam a particular product, without 'fessing up that the poster may not be your average visitor. Comparative advertising is part of the marketing mix today, but at least the viewer knows that a vested interest is involved.

On the web, “dis-information is a huge issue,” Newmark acknowledged, explaining that he personally often combs his sites to yank the bogus material.

Other speakers cited new media like vlogs—video web logs, or diaries, already being used by such old-guard media giants as The New York Times—and live local online chats that turn high-school sports stars into local celebs. Why not product spokespersons, too?

It might have all sounded a little Star Trek-ish if the news about Burger King’s latest off-beat-marketing effort hadn’t broken today. Various online media carried a story about the chain’s sponsorship of several on-demand files that visitors to a site called can download to video iPods, once those new devices become readily available. In the meantime, the spots—amateur clips made by regulars—can be viewed at the site,

And what sort of commercial messages are delivered by these new-age marketing efforts? None, actually. The clips show a guy in king's robes and a mask of the Burger King mascot, going through the drive-thru of McDonald’s as he doubles over in laughter at times. That's it. No lingering product shots, no put-downs of what the BK-garbed consumer is getting from McDonald's, no sense of dismay that he didn't hit a BK instead.

Must be a youth thing, because I just didn't get it. I can only hope for another Columbia seminar, Understanding Tomorrow's Marketing Messages.

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