This post appears on the official Global PR Blog Week site.
Blogging is new to many of us who never imagined that something akin
to gossip and story telling would impact deeply entrenched professions
such as advertising, PR and journalism. But it has, giving rise to a
journalism effect that fills the gaps of credibility in branding,
politics, journalism, and mass marketing. My topic is marketing
communications. As I noted in my backgrounder the people at the periphery have a voice –and the reach— that those at the center once enjoyed.
Our modern variants of gossip –marketing communications (which is
all about telling our commercial stories) and public relations (which
is used to narrate particular angles of a story) – have quietly
eclipsed the corporate video, the press conference, the product launch,
and the celebrity-studded TV commercial. The most interesting seem to
be the unofficial storytellers–the ‘unauthorized’ corporate bloggers,
the ‘self embedded’ journalists-blogger posting stories from the war zone, the ‘citizen journalists’ reporting for OhMyNews in South Korea, and the ‘un-ad agencies’ such as Crispin Porter + Bogusky. Even a group of consumers who release viral content for benign reasons or some form of activism have an audience.
These communicators at the periphery have realized that people and
institutions at the center –the corporate icons and the traditional
gatekeepers— have lost their credibility. Notice how it’s not just the
Ken Lays and Martha Stewarts of this world who are being put away. Also
being sidelined are information and image brokers from Tom Brokaw
(whom, we learn, is losing audiences), McCann-Erickson
(a powerful global advertising network/conglomerate which is losing
accounts to hot shops.) And yes, even newspapers have lost their
credibility, as a recent Pew Research study shows.
Whose brand stories will people listen to? It depends on who
provides more relevant content, rather than who crafts the best press
release. Consider the GlaxoSmithkline ‘story.’ No matter how you spin it, when New York Attorney General filed a lawsuit against their product, Paxil, the patients took to the message boards.
Or take BBC journalist, Stuart Hughes, who’s Iraq ‘audio blog’ on the Web,
is riveting journalism, more so, because it is not an official news
report filed through Hughes’ employer. These are seemingly isolated
examples of how spin, brand management (managed by one-time ‘brand
guardians,’) damage control, and intermediation are not always what the
This is not necessarily a pessimistic view of communications. We don’t have to look to Blogs per se
for the answer. The concept of blogging, of transparency, and allowing
multiple contributions is being embraced by the advertising and
marketing world, even as we speak.
Larry Light, the chief marketing officer of McDonald’s proposed a curious marketing idea last
month. He called it ‘brand journalism’ which is not a very accurate
label for what he was proposing, since it is neither journalism, nor
branding. “As a mass brand…we marketed a mass message through the mass
media appealing to masses of undifferentiated consumers,” he said. But
“customers will not accept monotonous, repetition of the same
simplistic message. They want a dynamic, creative chronicle.” Mr. Light
was not overtly referring to online ‘chronicles’ but he did have in
mind the rich tapestry of multiple opinions, and daily inputs to this
chronicle: “It means telling the many facets of our brand story every
day in 119 countries.”
And in the face of those he warned as the ‘positionistas’ (those brand advocates who defend the ‘positioning’ theory
of the one-voice, one-look, and one-brand image) he said that
McDonald’s would redefine its brand communication in a “non
advertising-centric world” where like the tapestries of old, this thing
called ‘brand journalism’ would be an “endless story” when unfurled
Welcome to the non advertising-centric world of marketing communications!
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