Saturday, October 3, 2009

Sept 09 - Let's talk

The legendary Bill Bernbach once said that word of mouth was the best form of advertising you could get. And he said it long before the internet was invented.

Bernbach’s comment remains as valid today as it was all those years ago. The main difference being that we very rarely hear the term word of mouth anymore. It’s all about ‘conversation’ these days.

Nobody knows this better than I do.

Hardly a day goes by where the topic of brand conversations or customer conversations or any one of a dozen other types of conversation is discussed.

Never before have so many people had so much to say about conversations.

One such person is Jonathan Salem Baskin, who wrote a wonderful post about the current fashionability of conversation on his blog Dim Bulb.

“Conversation is to selling what cooking is to eating,” wrote Blaskin. “Process, not ingredients, nor consumption. You wouldn't know it from the hype and confusion that surrounds the social media space, though.”

He continued, “Conversation is (seen as) an absolute good, an ideal that, once achieved, spins off numerous lesser benefits. It's a synonym for selling.”

Talk to any hard arsed marketer and I’m sure that they’d side with Blaskin. Getting people talking about your brand is great, but only if it lifts the bottom line.

One marketing campaign that derived almost all of its success from conversation is the now legendary Best job in the world campaign for Tourism Queensland.

Try typing Best job in the world into Google and see how many results it returns. I just did it and I got 488 million! It ranked highly in a Twitter search too.

Yet this huge campaign began with that most humble of advertising formats – the classified ad. The other key component was PR. Whilst the internet and social media facilitated the spreading of conversation.

The campaign won three Grand Prix at Cannes earlier this year, including one for for best website and interactive. Given the 488 million Google results I’d say it was a worthy winner of this award. Not everyone agreed.

Writing on Bannerblog, Tobie Cameron had this to say; “I love the campaign, it's by all accounts been hugely successful, it's just that for some reason a digital Grand Prix that could potentially have focused on innovation and creativity within the digital space is awarded to nothing more than a glorified video competition entry form.”


I have to say I agree with Tobie to be honest. He’s a digital creative of note, so he knows what he’s talking about. But having said that, I also strongly disagree with him.

Without the internet this campaign would never have reached as many people as it did. Nor would it have had as many people talking. And for that it deserves to be recognised.

It may not make the best use of digital technology, but it certainly makes great use of the digital medium in sparking and spreading conversation.

Which brings me to a very insightful comment left by David Bagley on the Dim Bulb blog; “Marketers,” wrote Bagley, “have become so focused on ‘having a conversation’ they have forgotten that what matters is to have an interesting conversation.”

In my column last month I argued that not all brands are suited to customer conversations or social media. After seeing that comment from David Bagley I am more convinced than ever that this is the case.

Some brands are utilitarian. Some brands are unexciting. And some brands are much loved. However we perceive them, brands are important. I just don’t think that each and every one of them is worthy of conversation. Unless they’re offering an amazing job on a tropical island of course!

Dim Bulb

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