Sunday, 25 January 2009

Social Currency Marketing

What do erotic balloon animals and dancing commuters have in common?

They have both been used by brands to provide a social currency which can be exchanged for consumer attention.

As more and more information is created, we struggle to consume it and so give it less and less attention. Simon Herbert first talked of this issue in 1971 when he stated that "a wealth of information creates a poverty of attention". It's ironic though that with all the demands on what is essentially a scarce resource – our attention – we choose to become ever closer and more connected by streaming information on each other through tools like Twitter or Facebook.

But is this really so surprising? As we are increasingly bombarded by external media with its demands on our time and attention aren't we simply forming a virtual "circle of wagons" – huddling together with those we trust (or would like to trust) to present a united front against the wider world.

This does though create a challenging opportunity for information providers - they might have to fight harder for the attention of consumers in the first place, but once they get it from a small number then it can spread like wild fire through the most effective peer-to-peer word of mouth "recommendation" in a matter of minutes. Using this blog as an example, I saw a 700% increase in visits in just one day when one of my articles got linked to someone's status update within twitter - much of that coming within just a couple of hours. And I wasn't even trying.

For a brand that is trying to find ways of breaking into these ever tighter virtual communities a commodity exchange is required that takes them from external threat (or worse still, a nonentity!) to a trusted (or at least accepted) insider. Continuing the analogy of the early pioneers, brands are finding things to trade. And where in the late 1700's it was mirrors, nails and buttons – in the 21st century the shiny objects are access, entertainment and kudos – creating essentially a social currency.

Looking at the recent viral campaign from Durex it's clear to see how this provided a valuable exchange – the video is extremely funny, and for those finding it first and forwarding it on to their friends, there's an element of kudos.


Durex have created an item to trade with potential and existing consumers which gives them access to a viral community and to a share of that most scarce resource – attention. In getting that attention they will have generated unexpected awareness and doubtless approval, as well as reminding people of a brand which of late may have been seen as less relevant than its competitors.

Mobile telco brands have really embraced this. In the UK, T-Mobile recently created an advert set in Liverpool Street railway station, with dancers mixed amongst the commuters who suddenly start dancing. This really captured the imagination of those who were there - sharing the event via their mobile and the video itself being posted to YouTube and receiving over 1.3m hits. With the strap line "Life's for Sharing" its clear they are trying to capture a share of consumers attention with something that can be talked about and traded.

The issue with these types of campaign is that although it breaks into the consumers consciousness, it is very quickly replaced by the next 'cool thing'. By its very nature it's difficult to maintain this kind of awareness through viral activity as the nature of this kind of interaction is that it is always looking for the next new thing, the next cool thing. Repetition is impossible – it's unremarkable – it's 'has-been', or worse still 'me-too' if you're the competitor brand.

Another way of gaining access to these hard to reach consumers is to not try and break in at all but instead to become part of their everyday life. Looking at another mobile operator O2, they have done this through their £6m per year rebranding of the Millennium Dome in the UK to the O2. This has allowed them to provide "access" for its customers such as priority booking for shows – allowing bookings 48 hours before non O2 customers - as well as bringing exclusive entertainment to their phones. They back this activity up with the ability to gain 4 free SIMS, allowing customers to introduce and share O2 with their friends.

With the Orange Wednesday promotion in the UK which provides 2 for 1 cinema tickets every Wednesday for Orange customers, this mobile telco operator has found an innovative way to really become part of their customer's everyday life whilst ensuring that their friends are introduced to the brand as well – providing a social currency through free films. This connection between their customer and their social network really does tie into everything they do, from the inclusion of free Facebook within their Dolphin package to the recent rebranding of Orange around the "I am" theme which focuses on how peoples social connections make up all that they are.

It's clear that brands are increasingly understanding that in the fight for a consumers attention they need to think not just about the consumer themselves, but all of the people they interact with and need to provide some form of social currency which can be traded in exchange for attention – whether this is erotic balloon animals, dancing commuters or free films.

As the recent Orange campaign says "I am who I am because of everyone".

3 comments:

pham diep chi said...

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