Digital Essays: The meek are upon us

Old-school ad techniques don't work in the new media landscape. Brands need to engage people with their values through choice and not coercion.

The first decade of the new millennium will be singled out by historians for special attention as the decade when the meek, against all odds, truly reached the tipping point of inheriting the earth.

This came to me while watching an episode of 24 on a homemade DVD (obviously not mine). It was a gripping episode of 24 - better than usual because it had no intrusive ad breaks, no time-consuming sponsorship or teaser messages and an irritating TV logo bottom right had been subtly cloaked.

It struck me this DVD is an emissary of the digital revolution. It represents people taking control of the "words and pictures" in every way. Although I don't condone illegal downloads, it is a warning shot for advertisers.

All of the intrusive, interruptive commercial messages had been cut or cloaked.

Research by Google and TNS suggests people will spend an average of about 41 days online, and only 37 watching TV this year. There is no longer a single controllable mass media way of communicating and this new landscape requires a complete rethink by advertising and marketing folk.

People should think about how they can connect with people and offer them an enchanting, remarkable experience based on personal choice, rather than how to "get their message in front of them".

Brands need to be brave enough to behave differently and advertisers need to rethink how they represent those brands. To me, some interesting features of this new media landscape include: Content; Context; Convenience; Pull; Freedom; and Fun.

CONTENT

Content has never been more important but creating high-quality content is difficult and expensive. On the other hand, facilitating user-generated content is a versatile and powerful technique that should be embraced rather than feared.

User-generated content allows people to engage with brands, share their experiences with friends and family, and possibly cause or contribute a global viral spread. Rather than seeing this as an uncontrollable force, advertisers should recognise the phenomenon and buzz it can create within companies. MTV is leading the charge with its new "people created" brand.

Old-school brand thinking is broken. Advertisers need to engage people with a brand's values and company's beliefs though choice, not coercion.

CONTEXT

Being in the right place at the right time cannot be underestimated. Last year, search became the biggest form of traffic on the internet.

The inference is that people spend most of their time looking for information and content online.

This makes contextual and behavioural targeting an interesting area because it allows us to place relevant content or a link to it in the right place, at the right time. Tracking a person's activities and presenting them with tailored messages can significantly improve an already well-performing campaign.

CONVENIENCE

The fact that 75 per cent of people have access to the internet at home, combined with its immediacy, the ability to share information with friends, and ever-increasing speed of access levels make it an ideal channel for advertisers to reach consumers on their terms.

The 24 DVD was downloaded from the internet and burnt on to a DVD. How much easier is that than going to a video store or collecting from the Post Office?

Ignoring these terms can have a devastating effect. The music industry was hammered by peer-to-peer sharing because it chose to ignore that time-poor consumers crave convenience. It underestimated the strength of the new generation's expectations when it comes to consuming media.

PULL

Old-school advertising is a numbers game and pushing marketing messages to consumers is no longer viable. Pop-up blockers are a simple sign of the times: unsolicited advertising is not welcome. Campaigns need to resonate with people to create true brand advocates.

We recently worked with Eurostar on a blog site featuring Parisians writing about their daily lives (voiceofacity.com). It is a site "by the people for the people" and a good example of consumers seeking out content that is relevant to them. Rather than being intrusive and interruptive, the content engages consumers and provides them with a powerful emotional brand connection and relationship.

FREEDOM

People will resent you if you curb their freedom online. How do you feel when you arrive at a website that stops your "back" button working? There are still big brand websites that do this. And how about inconsiderate overlay advertising that covers up content you're trying to read? These are intrusive (old school) techniques that have no place in the new media landscape.

FUN

The internet can be a fun place to be. A lot of people go online for a little light relief in their working lives and these moments, originally dominated by viral video clips, are a huge communication opportunity.

We recently convinced a client to introduce an entertainment element into their e-mail marketing based on the insight that people welcomed such a distraction on a Monday morning.

The e-mailing was aimed at a senior business audience and despite concerns they would not appreciate the humour used, return on investment shifted from 6:1 to 40:1.

SO WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?

The internet is transforming our world. My children are growing up in a world enormously different from mine, and I'm still in my thirties.

My daughter and her friends know they can always ask Google, they spend evenings on instant messenger or their mobiles, they have their own e-mail addresses and know what a blog is. They flock together online and move en masse from content to content, sharing ideas in a digital world.

The "great works" in online advertising are about inclusion, encouraging creativity, networking and social interaction. It attracts people through its own merits rather than through massive media investment. In short, it is polite. Forget old-school interruptive methods. In terms of advertising, it will be the polite, or the meek, who will inherit the earth.

- Mark Iremonger is the head of digital at Proximity London.

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Digital marketing executives oversee the online marketing strategy for their organisation. They plan and execute digital (including email) marketing campaigns and design, maintain and supply content for the organisation's website(s).