René Rechtman, senior vice president, AOL Advertising
René Rechtman, senior vice president, AOL Advertising
A view from René Rechtman

Think BR: Opt-in to an opt-out audience

Advertisers need to think differently to engage the social generation, writes René Rechtman, senior vice president, AOL Advertising.

The next mass medium could be called social mixed media. It consists of all previous media in one, mixed in new and increasingly amazing ways.

People now experience, share and purchase goods, entertainment and content in completely platform agnostic ways that were previously unimaginable.

While the big screen might still be in the living room, under the surface social media is boiling and it is the young, the digitally native, who are driving the change.

They consume on demand and opt in and out as they like, and the older and affluent are the followers. By 2015 Generation Social will be the single largest consumer group on the planet with tremendous influence on the purchase behavior of others. 

So who are they? Gen Soc is the digital native generation born between 1981 and 2000. Growing fast both in size and in buying power, these teenagers and young adults are quickly becoming the most attractive consumer group for marketers.

But with TV no longer their number one form of media consumption, it’s no easy task for brands to make an impact when communicating with this tribe.

According to Upstream's 2012 Digital Advertising Attitudes Report, 66% of Gen Soc feel they receive too much advertising online and subsequently delete or ignore messages from frequent promoters.

In short, they opt out.

This practice of opting out has significant implications for advertisers. You might be playing in the same spaces as Gen Soc but if they’re deliberately turning a blind eye, it’s money down the drain.

Worse still, research has shown that excessive marketing can even turn consumers against a brand, making them less likely to see it in a positive light.

One of the key reasons for opting out is that the balance of power is shifting to social peers. Gen Soc want to do, watch and follow the things their friends like and recommend.

As social curation platforms explode, it’s becoming standard practice to consume media in real time and advertising is struggling to keep up.

Take Justin Bieber’s US Tour - it sold out in one hour with no advertising. All it took was one tweet from the man himself.

Gen Soc are opting in to those things recommended by their friends and online communities, and in response, a new discipline of opt-in advertising is emerging.

Based on social content and social distribution, for many brands Generation Social now becomes the campaign rather than the target.

It’s no longer good enough for brands to simply ‘be’ in the same spaces as their audiences. They need to provide an experience that people want to be a part of and share with their friends - giving them content to consume when they want, how they want and with whom they want.

Take Starbucks, who provide an app that not only enables you to order and pay but also gives users a multitude of freebies.

Nothing new but nonetheless a smart digital asset that truly engages Gen Soc. Or you could look at Nike and its Everything Counts campaign, arming consumers with calorie counting watches, running apps and exclusive MP3s which involve them in the brand.

These assets all go some way to really bring these younger consumers into the fold. No one’s yet hit upon the magic formula for engaging Generation Social.

We’re all taking steps in the right direction by introducing more socially engaging and richer ad formats but we need to fully understand what motivates Gen Soc to make it easier for brands to tap into their online habits.

The rise of Generation Social gives advertisers new opportunities to push the boundaries when it comes to creativity and content - opportunities for richer storytelling, new formats and new ways to converse with their customers, and most importantly the chance to get people to opt in.

René Rechtman, SVP, AOL Advertising