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The Half Full

Chris Riley, Head of Account Planning for Apple, was in Portland last night. His talk centered on one question: “Now that the consumer is able to be as creative in our media as we are, what are we to do?”

The roar in the creative world is more and more coming from those who were once too small to play. It is coming from all directions. A citizen army of Weekend Warhols, now armed with Macs and digital cameras without a scent of commercial intent. Good work from the fringes. Good work everywhere.

Riley noted how the cost of making an impact has dropped sharply. In 1984, the Macintosh “1984” ad cost plenty. Ridley Scott was given a $900k budget, and then Apple paid $800k for the 60 second ad slot during the Super Bowl. The commercial was the first example of what John Sculley called “event marketing,” the goal of which was to create a promotion so groundbreaking that it deserves as much coverage as the product itself. Contrast this with today, where a Korean teenager named Funtwo can perform a stadium rock version of Pachebel’s Canon from his bedroom and draw 7.3 million viewers for a cost of zero dollars. This reflects how the line is blurring between amateur and professional, and how big money does not necessarily effect a big impact. Further, attention is more and more being drawn to creative work devoid of any commercial intent. This is folk expression of a new age. But thanks to technology, this is less like the scrawl of Howard Finster. This new expression is professional grade.

There is something else going on here. Amateurs are generating their own content, but they are fond of reacting too. Driven largely by Millennials, participation is the new creative currency. When Millennials are passionate about a product, idea or cause, they now have the means to create and participate. Social media is their collaboration system. This is a new twist to Sculley’s “event marketing.” Rather than provoking the media to create a buzz, we rely on capturing the imagination (litteraly) of the New Amateurs (i.e. Snakes on a Plane).

The old way was for a company to have a monologue with consumers. A creative agency would team up with a company and have a one way, downhill conversation with us, through television or print. This foundation has eroded now that the consumer is creatively armed and able.

The new way is for a company to have a dialogue with its consumers. Our job as creatives is to facilitate this dialogue, and make sure the means by which it takes place is fresh and interesting. Brands then have to meet their consumers half way, and let go of the reigns at some point. It is the consumers who want to be trusted, and are going to spread your message the farthest.

The picture Mr. Riley paints is nothing new, but the answer how we react to it has yet to be answered. The first step is beginning to recognize that the consumer is grown up now, and is very capable of joining the conversation.

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PUBLISHED ON Sep.19.2006 BY Jimm Lasser
Dave Werner’s comment is:

Great points, all very relevant to our current media culture. One thing to note is the dishonest feeling when companies try too hard to jump on a grassroots bandwagon. The infamous Coke Zero blog, the "hey look at us, we're so viral" Agency.com Subway pitch, faux mySpace profiles and advertisements disguised as podcasts...they always ring false to me.

Yet when you see the things fans have done with a brand like Nintendo...everything from live re-enactments of games, to insane musical remixes, to having Mario jumping on Sony president Kaz Hirai's head...it somehow works.

On Sep.19.2006 at 11:25 PM
felixxx’s comment is:

Nicely written. What are you? An account executive now? Your old home (NYC) called... wants it's scruffy k12 iconoclast back.

On Sep.20.2006 at 12:01 AM
SBG’s comment is:

Social Implications and spin aside, Al Gore's Current TV has been facilitating the views of it's audience through "viewer created content" and even ads via their "VCAM" - “viewer created ad message” for a little over a year now.
Their website has how-to's that cover concepting, shooting, editing and uploading your own pieces (which they actually pay for). Some of the inspirational and storytelling how-to's are hosted by Sean Penn and Robert Redford.
Anyhow, if this seems interesting, you'll find a lot more on their site. It's a good central location to see how this approach both succeeds and fails.

On Sep.20.2006 at 01:54 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

The consumer has always been able to join the conversation. They just didn't have the means to do it in a way that the company cared to listen to.

“Now that the consumer is able to be as creative in our media as we are, what are we to do?”

Listen to them. ;o)

On Sep.20.2006 at 09:40 AM
Wolfy’s comment is:

Is the comsumer grown-up, sophisticated or just more in control of their content? In some cases you're right, but sometimes i think the consumer just has too much restless energy.


On Sep.20.2006 at 12:36 PM
Young Mr. Arvizu’s comment is:

I think a concern for the industy here is that with the cost of making an impact declining, creating something that actually makes an impact is becoming increasingly more difficult. I'm left wondering how do you facilitate a meaningful dialogue amid such a huge and growing amount of transmission clutter?

On Sep.20.2006 at 02:51 PM
Héctor Muñoz’s comment is:

Bla bla bla Apple bla bla bla...

Apart from that, very interesting points.

On Sep.20.2006 at 03:42 PM
Bradley Gutting’s comment is:

Good points. But, you do hear about this a lot, especially these days. Thing is, it was about 7-8 years ago that you could read about the latest, craziest guerilla marketing thing that...whoever (askjeeves, evite, whatever) was doing in the bloated 400-page tree-killers of Fast Company and the thankfully departed Industry Standard et al.

People have more tools now, but its not that much different than when normal humans got access to desktop publishing software 20+ years ago. More people were able to do shittier work faster, and as is so often the case, only the truly good stuff gets anywhere (for the most part). Despite the prevalance of really good HD cameras and perfectly suitable editing and FX software, Hollywood still commands film production and distribution. There's an anomoly every now and then, like Blair Witch Project, but nothing that's changed our landscape entirely or permanently.

I saw Ty Montague, formerly of W+K and now with JWT, speak last year and he spoke quite vigorously about "doing things differently," which as far as I could tell amounted to a lot of hoaxes, like Beta-7, which the ad world drooled over but was ultimately seen as the fraudulence it was by most humans. He also showed that fairly hysterical "End of World" Flash cartoon done by a kid in Van Nuys and played some Red vs. Blue stuff (you know, the Halo enthusiasts who created a pretty funny "TV show" with the game on their X-Boxes). Fine, great. That was neat, but those things were fundamentally funny and interesting. So the lesson isn't necessarily "be organic!" as much as it is "be good."

The eye follows the line with the most contrast; whatever is markedly different than its surroundings will attract attention. That's why Blair Witch could succeed in a sea of Armageddons and Gladiator could beat out a collection of "artsier" films that were just blending into one another.

Some things are organic, many things aren't. Organizing ideas and regulating production will always have a place...just not the ONLY place. Hell, the Odyssey was pretty organic and look at the impact that's had.

But yeah. Ridley needed that much money to make that Apple spot work the way it did.

On Sep.20.2006 at 04:31 PM
Joe Moran’s comment is:

Interesting ideas.

A somewhat related article in this months Communication Arts by DK Holland and Ben Whitehouse.


On Sep.20.2006 at 09:19 PM
Kevin M. Scarbrough’s comment is:

Beyond the effects on the creative industry, what I wonder is how will "word-of-mouth advertising" affect the quality of products and services over the next 20 years, now that "word-of-mouth" is instant, global and relatively free of charge?

On Sep.21.2006 at 12:36 PM
Jeremy Brown’s comment is:

Inspired amateurs have always had an impact on popular culture. Look at graffiti, punk rock, zines, and, get ready to have your minds blown, blogs. All of these things were started by people who weren't part of the cultural mainstream. And, all of these things were eventually absorbed by the mainstream.

On Sep.21.2006 at 06:11 PM
Armin’s comment is:

> "word-of-mouth advertising"

As much as the "voice of the people" seems to be getting louder I think there are cautionary tales to remind us that, in the end, it is the combination of a good product or service backed by good positioning that bubbles to the top – i.e. not Snakes on a Plane. Amateurs created the buzz for the movie, creating fanblogs and t-shirts and homemade videos, but at the end of the day the movie flopped. Mayhaps it would have benefited from more agressive advertising and positioning from the studio itself rather than rely on the "fringe".

This rejunevated involvement from non-professionals is entertaining but I would hardly consider it a viable creative model that could help sell, move or promote any given product or service. The problem with this "dialogue" is that only one part of the logue actually cares about moving the product or service, while the consumer part can engage with it, but can always move on to the next product as their loyalty to any given product may be fleeting – specially if the product does not perform.

On Sep.22.2006 at 08:37 AM
Darrel’s comment is:

"Mayhaps it would have benefited from more agressive advertising and positioning from the studio itself rather than rely on the "fringe"."

The problem there was that the studio *wasn't listening*. Yes, there was a ton of hype. But it was all laughing AT the film...not with the film.

"This rejunevated involvement from non-professionals is entertaining but I would hardly consider it a viable creative model that could help sell, move or promote any given product or service."

If you mean that it's not a viable method for the vendor to enact, I completely agree. In fact, that's one of the worst things a company can do, as it only takes one person to smell the deception and you have instant backlash on a massive scale.

On Sep.22.2006 at 09:43 AM
Tselentis’s comment is:

Forgive me for asking this, and derailing the thread, but what are Millennials? Jim mentions these in the article, but I can't find out what they are anyplace in the writing nor the comments above? Are they a person? A movement?

On Sep.22.2006 at 09:38 PM
Michael Surtees’s comment is:

Howe and Strauss: “The Millennials”

The term seems to pop up a lot in terms of the hopes and dreams of colleges looking for the next thing in long distance education or eLearning: e-learning + Millennials

On Sep.22.2006 at 10:08 PM
Erik Larsson’s comment is:

Very interesting article, I can't seem avoid thinking that this new dialogue might apply to branding in terms of advertising but do you guys also think that this could eventually apply to activities that exist in the realm of "pure" graphic design, maybe there are already examples of this?

I'm thinking about things such as a well drawn logotype being the signature of the company and all the elements which makes out a corporate graphic identity. Isn't it quite important that here, we as creatives do not facilitate dialogue :).

Maybe the consumer has grown up but sometimes one has to tell him to go to its room...

On Sep.26.2006 at 08:43 AM
Marg’s comment is:

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On Oct.30.2006 at 03:49 PM