Wednesday, March 21, 2007

YouTube and Advertisers: Wading into the Chaos Pool

I spoke at the ClickZ video ad conference this week (held here in lovely San Francisco, thank you Rebecca). After our presentation, someone asked the panel "if you have a brand that is controversial, what advice would you give about posting video on social networks?"

My advice was (and I quote) "Tread freakin' cautiously"

I absolutely believe that it is fantastic that we have sites such as YouTube where anybody can post a video and anyone comment on it, or post videos that are responses. That is a good thing and there is so much crackling energy around it that you have to pay attention. But that doesn't mean you, as a brand, need to dive in head-first.

If people out there in the world absolutely love you, a consumer-generated media strategy can be a fantastic thing. If there are people out there in the world who hate you, a CGM strategy can be deadly. Because any latent feelings that consumers have about your brand will come to the surface immediately when they are prompted. If everyone thinks your brand is successful only because you kill bunnies all day long, that message is going to come out the minute you post a video about your non-bunny-killing activities on YouTube.

This week, AdAge is asking the big question about YouTube and Google's purchase: was it worth it? They point to the limbo state of their ad model: it's not what it is now, it's not what it wasn't and it is going to be something, but no one knows what that is. But, they also point to the weak spot: advertisers don't necessarily want to get into a space that is under the control of consumers and therefore, by its nature, based upon chaos.

Sometimes, it helps to think of advertising simply as a math problem. Everything has a probability of success, as well as a chance of failure and a chance of something unexpected. A good ad strategy used to be a clever line and a good consumer insight. That won't cut it anymore. Today, you need to consider the dynamic ecology of the consumer landscape, identify risks and take actions to mitigate issues. Sometimes, that may simply be chosing not to participate in a space where the odds are stacked against you, no matter how attractive that space is, and how many blog posts are written imploring you to embrace a Brave New World.
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