Monday, August 15, 2011

If You Are Advertising, There Must Be Something Wrong With You

Have you ever watched a "featured" or "promoted" video on Youtube? I haven't watched them very often, because from my experience, they usually suck. Why else would someone need to pay to get his or her video high up in the listings? Really good videos gain popularity organically. Ironically, at least for me, seeing that a video on Youtube is "featured" is the kiss of death, and guarantees that I will not watch it. "Featured Video" is the mark of a bad video that is probably trying to sell something. A video's mark of quality can only come from a large number of "thumbs up" ratings. This is a democratization of the whole marketing environment. You can see it everywhere on the web, not just on Youtube. Star and thumbs up systems provide a collective intelligence that can communicate to everyone which products and services are truly worthwhile. These collective rating systems are one reason that advertising is becoming less relevant in today's wired world. Though today there are more and better opportunities to reach your customers through advertising than ever before, advertising itself is taking a backseat to organically-spread word of mouth. Word of mouth rules, and now that there are automated ways to instantly and globally spread word of mouth, advertising has taken a new, secondary place. For example, if advertising misleads, word of mouth, or rather, word of type or click, can correct things eventually. If a company promises amazing results from a product, a consumer must only check user reviews on one of many websites to get the real scoop from people who have actually used it (though maybe also a scattering of fake reviews marketing people at the company have thrown in there). So this leads me to what I think is a new law of marketing in our viral world: if you are advertising there must be something wrong with you. I am being slightly facetious. This is an exaggeration. No matter how easily word of mouth can spread, companies will need to advertise. Some industries need advertising more than others. And even the best companies will need to advertise, at the very least to get the viral marketing snowball going in the first place. But if you take a look at who is doing the most advertising nowadays, you're going to see a lot of predatory lenders, shady herbal supplement companies and expensive trade schools, not so much reputable and well regarded companies. Many of the best companies may have found that they can thrive from the free advertising of web-based word of mouth. Perhaps our collective intelligence on the web will lead to a world where companies, (gasp!) must actually make a decent product to survive.

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