Not so long ago, social media was lauded as a game changer. It would forever alter the relationship between brands and consumers.
Social media is a communications tactic. The way websites, ambient media, guerilla media, and product placements (that is, writing Pottery Barn into a Friends script) are tactics.
When they were new, each of these tactics was hailed as game changers. Why? I believe it’s because the people pitching them (in this case, the folks at agencies of both the digital and traditional variety) have an insatiable hunger to create incremental innovation. That is, stuff-that’s-new-but-not-so-new-it-might-upset-the-applecart innovation.
Don’t get me wrong. There are many things I love about social media.
I love the way it lets you ask consumers what they want from your company. If nothing else, that loosens the choke hold research companies have put on marketers and manufacturers for so long.
I also love how you can turn your fans into your media channel via social media, empowering them to tell all their friends about your company. I don’t see TV, print, or billboard ads going away anytime soon. But I know it’s fun to play the social card when you’re negotiating media buys with TV or newspaper media reps. You’ll get a better deal. You might even get hockey tickets to sweeten the deal. Win win.
My point is, the fundamental bit hasn’t really changed at all. Client goes to agency with product and tells agency what she wants to say about it. Agency takes money and does communicating using all the creativity and tools at its disposal. Insert latest tactic here.
However, very few (if any) agency people ask the client if the world needs this product, if this product will improve the human condition, if there is any real burning belief in the product. That would be the sort of communications innovation that would give clients pause and give agency bean counters heart palpitations.
That, my friend, would be new.
Arrogant bastard, you’re saying. What gives you the right to decide what is and isn’t a worthy product?
Nothing. I’m just one voice. But if my experience connecting dots is anything to go by, New often starts with challenging thoughts.
So here’s a thought to start us off: products that hurt or kill people shouldn’t be advertised.
I hear the howls of derision rising. Does that include fast food and pharma? Don’t consumers need to take personal responsibility? What if a product helps some but hurts others? What if a company makes good and not-so-good products? How will all the makers of “bad” products survive?
But what if we could put together a few thousand bright minds and pose that question to them? Then try out a few of their solutions, learn from the experience, and repeat the exercise again and again?
We may never see products that hurt people banned from advertising. But pushing ourselves to think—and pursue—uncomfortably new thoughts would certainly keep the business fresh.
Companies like IBM are already doing just that with their Global Idea Jams. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, IBM invites thousands of smart people from around the world to “jam” on an idea over the course of forty-eight hours. They link together—demonstrating IBM’s power to connect—and come up with, blend, and build on ideas. Cool thing is, you can sign in over your morning coffee, see an idea that was shaped the night before in a different part of the world, add your two cents, then send the idea off to be bashed about by other folks. Good fun.
When the exercise wraps, IBM has reams of controversial, uncomfortable new ideas, and all of us feel warm and fuzzy about participating.
Sure, it’s just a tactic to get bright, off-the-wall thoughts into the company coffers. But it also sows the seeds for real change.
Isn’t that what ‘New’ should be doing?
Excerpt from Didn’t See It Coming, Marc Stoiber’s new book.
Marc Stoiber is a brand consultant, entrepreneur, and writer. He knows how to connect dots, simplify, and add a creative twist to the most mundane things in life. Even insurance and diet bars.
He has worked in the corner office, basement, and coffee shops around the world. His work – even the legitimate stuff – has been recognized by virtually every international industry award for advertising and design.
Marc writes on brand innovation for Huffington Post, Fast Company, GreenBiz and Sustainable Life Media. He also speaks on the subject from coast to coast.