Marketers worm their way into user-generated content

By May 23, 2007

Brands are following consumers to social networking sites, blogs and Second Life. The “momentum effect” has huge potential, but will consumers ignore or even reject these marketing efforts? Among the options for Internet users wan

ting to create and share content, social networking is probably the most pervasive experience in the life of the 15 to 34-year old crowd. A full 70% of them now belong to a social network according to US ComScore figures. On a given month, an estimated 60 million Americans use MySpace. A study commissioned by MySpace found that these Internet users view social networking as a way to add fun and excitement to their life both online and offline.  But the “Never-Ending Friending” study also found 40% of those surveyed have “discovered brands and products that they really like” on social networks. “Friending is the next advertising. Across markets, social networking users consistently expressed their desire for brands and organizations to treat them less like customers…and more like friends,” wrote the researchers in their study. In a new twist on viral marketing, users expose their community to the brands they have accepted as friends.  In segmenting MySpace users by categories, the study reports that “the See & Be Seens are the segment most influenced by product and brand advertising; 90% use the medium to learn about brands and products, versus just 31% for the average user.” That’s music to the ears of marketers thinking about investing the social networking space. The study looked at two campaigns by Adidas and Electronic Arts on MySpace. It concluded that, given the “momentum effect”, social networks offer an opportunity to increase brand loyalty and advocacy and should therefore attract more marketers in the future.  Nissan and Adidas on Second Life To which Joe Marchese retorted in his OnlineSpin column that “There is a critical point at which the commercialization of any medium erodes the value of that medium for consumers. The point is this: If tomorrow every advertiser began creating profiles within MySpace in parallel with coordinated promotions and friending efforts, the balance of the MySpace ecosystem would shift considerably, likely resulting in stunting MySpace’s real growth, and disenfranchising its current population.” Will MySpace heed that warning considering that branded advertising now reportedly accounts for 70% of its revenue mix? Beyond social networking  Word-of-mouth marketing infiltrating personal blogs and YouTube preparing to sandwich ads between the videos of its most popular contributors are all part of the same trend to monetize the popularity and influence of online communities. One of the hottest places to be seen for real-life companies is Second Life. Adidas (again), Reebok, Nissan, American Apparel, Reuters and many more have set up shop in Second Life’s virtual community.  “The goal is to build a community in Second Life that is really engaged and really excited and really involved,” Reuben Steiger, whose company Millions of Us has helped clients like General Motors and Warner Bros move into SL, told the Associated Press. But according to reporter Wagner James Au who has been blogging about Second Life since its beginning in 2003, “For the most part, real world companies and organizations are having negligible impact on Second Life society as a whole.” That’s because SL users tend to attract more foot traffic to their own virtual clothing stores and car dealerships than the real-life newcomers.  “Interactive Food and Beverage Marketing: Targeting Children and Youth in the Digital Age”, a study released on May 17, warns about a new marketing ecosystem “that encompasses cell phones, mobile music devices, instant messaging, videogames, and virtual three dimensional worlds…transforming how food and beverage companies do business with young people in the twenty-first century.” The trend is here to stay. Isabelle Boucq for Atelier

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