August 2008 - Ask the Expert

Q:Are consumer-advertising mashups as beneficial as today’s buzz suggests?

By Timothy R. Hawthorne

A: When Mixercast announced in June that its ad mashup initiatives surpassed 1 billion monthly page views, social advertising supporters celebrated. Soon after, the Contagious and Leo Burnett agencies delivered a pro-mashup presentation at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. Ogilvy Worldwide proclaimed “revolutionary” mashups the Dada of the 21st century.

While I welcome any ad models that creatively engage consumers, note the sources of June’s big mashup moments: three ad agencies and a company offering mashup technology. Because advertisers themselves are less excited by revolutions than return on investment, they temper their enthusiasm even for promising strategies. After all, there’s a flip side to each promised benefit.

  • Mashups enable engagement. Not only do advertisers allow consumers a voice in building brand image, they gain considerable goodwill by responsively encouraging it. But I don’t need to catalog YouTube fiascos to prove engagement is not always positive. While true believers will work hard on your behalf, skeptics often express themselves with even greater zeal.

  • Mashup technologies help direct social networking toward positive brand messages. Peers talk with peers anyway, so you may as well manage the process. Providing previously aired commercial snippets for remix allows brands to vet every element. But cantankerous Netizens may accept such tactics as challenges and produce brand-centric equivalents to those clever cut-and-paste trailers that make “Mary Poppins” look like a horror flick.

  • Participation implies genuine interest. In their most popular deployments, mashup campaigns invite consumers to opt-in. People who don’t want to remix shoe companies’ commercial footage don’t have to visit the websites. But implied interest has shaky foundations-many mashers love to play director more than they love brands.

  • Technology makes engagement quite easy. Companies like Mixercast and Jumpcut provide accessible tools and agencies identify the clip libraries. With such foundations in place, consumers need only to tweak. What isn’t easy is measuring impact. Even though direct response’s accountability promise is what drives advertisers online in the first place, mashup campaigns can only measure site use, not sales.

All new marketing models inspire hyperbole. The Contagious/Burnett presentation reportedly justified mashup initiatives this way: “Tell me and I will forget. Show me and I may remember. Involve me and I will understand.” Under this logic, people who mashup extreme sports videos on the Nike 6.0 site will understand why they ought to buy Nike. Doubtful…sometimes they just like cool videos. Nor is Dada a sensible metaphor. While ceding control to consumers overturns traditional conventions, the conventions they mock are ones that advertising agencies created and formulized. To imply we didn’t know what we were doing is cloying and cynical. It’s ironic that for most mashup campaigns, brands turn to experts-be they techies or agencies-to manage giving power to the people. Apparently, revolutions work best when mashed up with time-proven tactics.

Timothy R. Hawthorne is founder, chairman and executive creative director of Hawthorne Direct.


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