We live in a world inhabited by millions of brands, each fighting for our attention. With media fragmentation on the rise, wily marketers try to leverage each and every resource in an effort to get consumers to take notice of them. Their arsenal includes (not restricted to) new product launch buzz, media advertising, product packaging and shopper marketing initiatives. Thus, the average person is bombarded by approximately 30,000 messages a day, 1,250 messages an hour and 20 messages a minute! 
The world has indeed changed. Marketers are beginning to come to terms with the fact that brands do not reside atop shop shelves or in cute commercialsÂ but in the minds and hearts of consumers. Evolved marketers are increasingly embracing the concept that true brand ownership lies with their consumers and not with them. This motivates them to consistently make their brands relevant to their target audience by increasingly being seen at popular venues like social networking communities. Here visitors can very often engage with the brand in a way that they consider interesting by creating content around it and discussing it intensely through numerous forums and blogs. Consider the My Space phenomenon. The community boasts of having over 106 million registered users and is one of the oldest & most popular online communities worldwide. Marketers are quickly leveraging its voracious popularity (amongst teens, tweens and young adults) as a strategic marketing tool. For instance, boosted by a significant ad buy on MySpace to support the May 2006 movie release, X-Men 3 garnered 3.2 million friends on its profile. Other mainstream brands have (with much success) entered and created a niche for themselves on Myspace; each garnering numerous friend additions (Impressions, involved exposures) like Nike Soccer (43,000 friends), Jack-in-the-Box (1.64 Lakh friends), Honda Element (43,159 friends), Aquafina (16,302 friends) and mobile telephony giant Cingular WirelessÃ¯Â¿Â½ Cingular Sounds (38,108 friends). MySpace seems to be starting a trend by driving adspend on social networking sites. eMarketer estimates that marketers will spend $280 million on social network advertising in the United States in 2006. The largest chunk of that spending will go toward MySpace, which eMarketer estimates will generate $180 million in U.S. ad revenue this year. eMarketer projects that ad spend will increase to $1.9 billion by 2010. This rapid growth assumes that marketers will embrace the one-to-one-to-many style of marketing that social networking makes possible. The figure also reflects aggressive growth projections that Wall Street analysts have set for MySpace.
All of us know that the most potent form of advertisement is a personal endorsement/referral from a friend since the motive to disburse the information has no commercial underpinning. It simply stems from a unique experience (good or bad) which a friend wants his peer to be aware of. This process of message transfer/communication is termed viral communication since it is akin to a cold virus transferring from one person to another or the way a computer virus spreads with every forward. Marketing initiatives are becoming more and more personal. Marketers realize that consumers are constantly talking about them and that a certain sentiment if established strongly enough could either make or break them overnight. It wasnÃ¯Â¿Â½t that long ago (September 2003, to be precise) that the Niestat brothers created a web hysteria with their expose on Ipod’s battery replacement policy (or lack thereof) with IpodsDirtySecret.com which hosted a film that documented their experience with iPod customer service. They forwarded that web address to 30 of their friends which resulted in 300 hits by the end of that very day and over 40,000 the next day! The movement was so powerful and so profound that it got national news coverage and extremely bad PR for Apple who was then forced to change its battery replacement policy within 2 weeks of that story breaking. Whats amazing about this is that, this was an act of love, not hate! The Niestat brothers were so in love with the iPod & Apple products that they thought Apple’s response was very un-apple-like especially since they had remained loyal to the company during its choppy past.
Marketers are beginning to recognize this and have begun to start thinking about ways and means to motivate consumers to evangelize their brand (positively) amongst their peers. Axe which woos young males with the simple yet unignorable proposition of guaranteeing female attraction is, in our opinion, on the forefront on consumer engagement with various initiatives that include Vixens (sexy models doing silly things), Evanandgareth.com, TheGameKillers.com (dealing with people that stifle the attraction game-play) all housed on TheAxeEffect.com has gone far in establishing and re-establishing Axe’s dominance in the minds of young males when it comes to deodorant fragrance choices. It is the ONLY obvious choice since consumers recognize that Axe truly understands what’s really important to them and constantly strives to deliver that in the most engaging and entertaining way possible. Evanandgareth.com is an interesting case study, wherein two everyday young males were asked to tour America and write the playbook on how to seduce women and document their daily experiences on their video blog. Needless to say, numerous people followed the mis/adventures of the duo which led to numerous repeat visits to the video blog site and active discussions on the sites numerous visitor-created forums. Other brands like Philips Norelco, Nestea Ice are not that far behind in the race to innovatively engage and entertain consumers. They do this by: a) creating content and properties that are relevant and hip to their respective target groups and, b) create an environment that nurtures community building – where consumers may freely discuss issues that are important to them through various blogs and message boards housed on the site. The sites motivate visitors to register (in order to participate in the host of activities offered on the site) and evangelize the site amongst their peers so that they may join them in that unique experience. These initiatives all go way beyond the product/brand giving the effort a sense of vastness and credibility since the end result expected is not sales but customer engagement. Thus the consumer is so taken in by the brandÃ¯Â¿Â½s attempt to understand his evolving world, address his latent, (at times) unarticulated needs that he totally buys into the brand at very emotional, intimate level which would never have been possible by being exposed to a TV/Radio commercial or Print/Outdoor advert.
India is not that far behind when it comes to virally powered marketing ideas. Brands like Clinic All Clear, Axe (ComeToAxeland.com), Colgate Max Fresh (MaxFreshClub) and Sunsilk (SunsilkGangofGirls.com) are making serious headway with engaging and delighting consumers in way that are fresh and new to the Indian market. Clinic All Clear’s (CAC) MakeYourMoves.com is like a virtual flirting game where one can choose between moves (on the opposite sex) and watch the outcome of their choices in a prerecorded video window. The product integration is not apparent and the entire activity seems geared to entertain and to help visitors realize that CAC truly understands the psyche of its target audience. In just five days after launch the site had received 5000 registrations, 2 lakh user sessions of 18 minutes each and 1.4 million page views. By the end of the first five weeks registrations more than doubled to over 1400, and there were a total of 3.2 million page views, of which 77,000 constituted unique visitors. The site has other audio visual components like Paris Hilton’s latest music video as well as the ability to make a movie with its desi flavored movie maker which when produced can be voted on and discussed on a highly active blog. Till date over 5000 movies have been made online and the site has had over 3.8 million hits. Colgate launched its foray into this new media with MaxfreshclubÂ a community site launched on Valentines Day, promoted the viral and topical Max Muuaah by which a user could send an e-kiss (of varying intensities!). Over 2000 ‘muuaahs’ were sent on Feb 14th alone. Crystal Quest and Crystal Challenge had users hunting for/ collecting the cooling crystals to drive home the brand message. Over 1 lakh unique users (60 percent in the age group of 21-30 Ã¯Â¿Â½ core brand target audience) came to the site over a 3 month period and spent an average of 9 minutes. Sunsilk gang of girls IndiaÃ¯s first ever all girl community online has also tasted success with over 2 lakh members, over 20,000 gangs being created and the site boasting of over 150 million hits. The site is powered by blogs, numerous forums, games and syndicated content. Even categories that do not lend themselves immediately to viral ideas like travel services (MakeMyTrip.com) and financial services (TATA-AIG Maharaksha) are jumping on to this bandwagon in a big way. MakeMyTrip.com created a buzz with its highly entertaining virals (Sita haran, Ram-Lakshan, Chidiya Udi, The Moving Train) that communicated the site’s ability to offer the best travel deals online. The virals took about 2-5 days to gain popularity with the effects diminishing in about ten days to two weeks. The entire campaign reached about 250,000 unique visitors.
Gone is the era of out of sight = out of mind. Today’s awareness mantra seems to be more like out of mind = out of sight since consumers are more likely to engage products/services that they perceive to be receptive to their evolving tastes, habits and preferences and who delight them right through the purchase-consumption and post-purchase process. We live in exciting times. The rules of the game have changed significantly. The lines between what is marketing and entertainment have blurred. Its all about entertainment now, since, its only when brands entertain consumers with their engagement initiatives that the consumer recalls both the experience and the brand that powered that unique and is then motivated to draw others into the fold to share in that experience to make it bigger not only for himself but for himself AND others as a group. The concept of one just got bigger. Whats key today is individuals and their leanings towards the communities they build, their participation within them and the way they evangelize them to constantly create richness and visualize a better, more informed and involved world.
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