Mumbai: Diaper brand Huggies has just created a viral campaign that invites parents to upload a picture of their child on to an interactive Web video called Huggies Club ‘Baby Moviestar’. Parents can then personalize the interactive movie, which could be of any genre—Western, fantasy, etc.—to include the child’s favourite things. Facebook’s new ad model includes referral ads, in which users can put their photos and profiles in ads which can then be forwarded to their friends and family. McDonald’s Corp. allowed real life contest winners to be featured on its packaging (cups and paper bags) across markets.
Call it what you will, but users are slowly emerging as ad stars or the public faces of brands. They are increasingly being invited by companies to feature in online or offline ads, movies and packaging as real life brand endorsers, or even to co-create content.
While consumers have traditionally appeared in ads as brand endorsers, such testimonial advertising was viewed as spin by viewers who have become increasingly cynical about advertising’s tall claims. In contrast, the spontaneous or impromptu involvement of consumers in the ad creation process results in a buzz around the product, at least among their family, friends and peer group.
HSBC Inc. created a ‘talking point’ on the Web by allowing users to discuss the brand unmoderated.
FordBoldMoves.com, for brand Ford featured a 30-part documentary, giving users high-level access to Ford Motor Co. facilities, meetings, production line-up, etc., and allowed them to post their views on what they observed.
Closer home, Lehar Kurkure from PepsiCo India Holdings Pvt. Ltd converted real life consumers into “stars” as they dished out recipes involving the brand, and got their faces featured on the packs in return. And in multiplexes today, positive viewer reviews on a movie could be recorded for use in film promotions.
These ads are all about consumer advocacy and promise stronger consumer loyalty in the face of lower pricing and promotions by rivals. K.V. Sridhar, national creative director, Leo Burnett India Pvt. Ltd, says the push for the brand comes not so much from the brands as from the users themselves.
“Applications such as YouTube put users in the driver’s seat. The user can post messages on a brand, talk about it online, upload pictures and images, distort commercials, and even create and upload commercials of his own. And there isn’t much a brand can do it about it,” he adds.
So, we have South Indian superstar Mammooty singing on YouTube, followed by Nike’s ad line: ‘Just Do It.’
A radio station launched itself in Delhi and, without publicizing its airwaves, simply posted this in a forum on Facebook.
Users are now critical co-partners in brand building.
“Credit cards have been doing referrals for some time now. And testimonials are all too common in detergent and soap ads. But, it’s definitely more credible when there is an online community of some kind that posts uninhibited views. Advertisers have no control. There could be some amount of control on TV, where you edit out negative comments, but not so on the Web,” says Pranesh Misra, president & COO, Lowe Lintas India Pvt. Ltd.
Santosh Desai, managing director and CEO, Future Brands Ltd, says that is a very ‘real’ phenomenon, unlike commercial advertising, and that it works best when it’s not engineered or tampered with.
“Users need to have a dialogue among themselves about the brand, and the conversation shouldn’t be moderated. This wave of communication (called viral, etc.), works when marketers don’t get much involved. For, if they do, they would just do it in an obvious ham-handed way,” he adds.
In his view, brands that believe in themselves and their capabilities will do this. “Here, unlike a TV commercial, you can make consumers interested only if you are interesting. Here, there must be a definite value proposition to get consumers to be your ad.”
There are caveats. Aloke Banerjee, CEO of the home textiles division at S Kumars Nationwide Ltd, says there needs to be restraint in using referrals, or there could be a risk of erosion in brand values.
It’s a consumer-to-consumer interaction. If marketers decide to catalyze it, they should do it with a lot of sensitivity. Get involved too much, and it will kill the phenomenon, adds Desai.