Is Open Source Marketing the answer?

Much has been written lately about open source marketing. (So I thought I add to the rumble.)
The trigger for this movement is simple: Publishing has become extremely easy with the internet and a range of simple tools for easy publishing text, images, videos, etc.
And because they can, they do. Wikis, Blogs, etc. are all a result of this.

People publish thigns about all sorts of stuff they feel related or close to. (And sometimes also about stuff they hate!). So they also publish about brands. While many marketers still feel that they need to guard their brand, many users don’t accept this and declare brands and their representation in advertising to be open source. George Masters is an example. Without having been asked by apple, he produced an iPod ad – only for the love of the product. We also all still remember the viralling VW ad about the car bomber. Another example of people taking advertising into their own hands.

Smart brands recognise this trend and keep on top of this development by proactively asking their target audience to contribute to the advertising efforts. And guess what – these clips/stories people will actually search for, while at the same time they tivo clips from the same brand on TV.

Collaborate Marketing says, that OSM is indeed the answer and has some background on this trend as well as 8 points to take into consideration when engaging in OSM. Mainly, companies will have to shift from brand guardians to brand moderators. (via)

For more info on the open source movement in general and how open source meets marketing I also recommend Web Pro News.

For those who can read German, Connected Marketing also writes about OSM and pointed me to some of the sites in this post.

Some examples:

Converse lets users send in their homemade advertising clips (some background info at Customer Evangelists)

Adverblog pointed me to (make it better…). The site shows a several minute long clip in which „the boss“ is disappointed with the ad that his agency did. (The clip reminds me somewhat of „Truth in Advertising“ which was viralling around a couple of months ago.)
Bascially he says, that the agency has no clue whatsoever about what the target audience wants to see. So at the end of the clip, he asks the users to send in homemade ads – because that way, some relevant ads will be produced. Of course this thing is attached to a sweepstake.

Coors: again users can send in their homemade ads.

Mercedes in the US let’s people tell their stories of how they love Mercedes. Great – again – let the audience praise your product – what better way to be convincing?
And finally a campaign without ad clips, but rather images and stories. This is much easier for the average user than producing ad clips.

Red Bull let’s users display their creative work at the art of the can. Some nice and creative stuff on that site!

The E-mediators have a good article about the Project Fox of Volkswagen. by P&G is a mixture of Open Source and „Buzzmarketing“. Users can sign up to „work“ with P&G by receiving products and other stuff before their on the market, testing products and give recommendations, and of course tell their friends about it. Some more information in the FAQs.

E-mediator also mentions Channel9 where

customers elaborate and re-configure narratives about the Microsoft brand. They participate in clarifying the meaning of Microsoft using an interactive mode of communication. On Channel9, the meaning-creation is initiated by a video post and then elaborated in writing by users.

I don’t think open source marketing is the answer for all brands or products (just think about pure B2B brands – what will they do?), neither do I think that this should be the only thing companies do. But taking part in this to at least some degree will certainly make a brand more approachable.

Updated a bit later: a comment I just made at collaborate marketing:

Two thoughts about open source:
do people actually have the „source code“ of the brands they do their little homemade clips for? I don’t think so. So what they do, can be on brand – or may be far off.

Which leads me to my other thought: isn’t it dangerous for the longterm consistency of brands, if everyone can participate in brand image communications (as for converse, mercedes, etc.)? Because in real terms, it’s a small minority that will shift the brand image away from what millions of other (passive but financially equally influential) users might want to have and see in that brand.

I agree, that brands need to rethink how they communicate and interact with their audience, but they can’t just listen and act to the loudest and most active.

Gimmicks like the ones mentioned above are nice and show that the brands want to engage their audience in their communication. But they will still need agencies or other partners to keep overal communications on brand.

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6 Kommentare

  1. Thanks for your thoughtful comment. The point of OSM is to try and identify the ’new rules‘ for marketing as we move beyond the broadcast era and into a new one. The Open Source Movement with its co-creative approach spread among sophisticated online communities seems to offer
    a lot of clues. The further we examine the marketing industry the more it seems likely that the actual assumptions about control are the ones that will need to change. But it’s not anarchy. Just different. Like wikipedia. Exciting times!

  2. hhm, I see what you mean. But building brands in a wiki fashion only works, if there is a collective corrective movement. Like in Wikis. And for that you need a general agreement that whatever task is at hand (ie building the best wiki-site) is understood by all. And that anyone working against this objective will be „corrected“.
    Plus: brands are part of making profit for organisations, unlike wikis and open source in general, where no monetary goal is attached. Even more: brands are important assets of a company. I always think of a quote of someone at Coca-Cola, undoubtedly the best-known brand in the world, which goes something like this: I don’t care if we loose all production facilities or distribution networks over night. But I do care, if people forget about our brand overnight. (I unfortunately can’t find the original quote…)
    So, yes, control can be re-interpreted, but as long as the value of brands are part of the stockmarket value of corporations, they will not let loose of at least some control of the brand. Which is, more or less, what most brands did sofar: they decided to let the audience take part in communications, but they still decided on the general theme they should work with.

  3. I’d like to add two thoughts to the discussion: [1] I sometimes get the impression that people mistake OSMarketing with OSAdvertising. I think the idea of OSM derives much of its power from the fact that it is fairly all-encompassing – imagine a company that includes the „audience“ / consumers / clients in a dialogue that extends well beyond the aspect „communications“. Marketing is about all 4 Ps, i.e. Promotion, but also Price, Place and Product. So I think companies who really embrace a complete idea of OSM are headed for exciting times.
    And [2] is a case study of a brand that did just that: Blowfly Beer, an Australian beer brand, was built entirely with its consumers, and it in fact offers shares to these consumers. You can find much of their concept at .

  4. Martin, point for you. OSM is something different from OSA.
    I mainly looked at examples of OSA sofar – only and that australian brewery are examples of OSM as you pointed out. (There may be more, but I can’t think of any just now – if anyone knows any, post them here, please)
    But still, OSM deals with the roots of a brand. Because brands are built only in part through communications. In reality it’s the organisation as a whole that defines a brand, with marketing playing one of the biggest roles.
    But this takes us to the question, what builds a brand? The products or the communication? I couldn’t say which: Nike is a brand which was mainly built through brilliant communications. The products weren’t really any more special than the competitors‘. Apple could be an example of a brand made up by great products that have a huge crowd of fans.
    Anyhow, to not be misunderstood: I do think that this is a step in the right direction for Marketing. What they tried with focus groups and other researches doesn’t display the whole truth of what people want from a brand. Pretty much the same as I said above about the danger of OSM. Only that Focus groups have just tens of people taking part, OSM might have hundreds of people taking part. But still not perfect. Question – can it ever be?

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