Marketing trends for 2006 - a clash of methods
Brand marketers have tried a number of new approaches in 2005 ranging from branded entertainment to blogs and 'alternate reality' games to consumer-created content. But 2006 will be the year of the marketing "face-off" as traditionalists stick with what they know while others try yet more new methods, according to Drew Neisser, CEO for Renegade Marketing Group.
This year (2005) has been characterised by brand marketing experimentation and courageously different campaigns, as big TV-time buyers hedged their bets against the ad-zapping DVRs (digital video recorders) and shifted TV ad budgets toward product placement and branded entertainment properties. Even modest-budget brands such as Lamborghini and Marquis Jets delved into product placement this year.
Others tapped into the blogging phenomenon, creating their own blogs and advertising through others. Alternate reality games such as 'I Love Bees' for Microsoft's Halo 2 game, and Audi's 'Art of the Heist', caused considerable interest among marketers and consumers alike. Similarly, consumer-created content was quickly popularised and some industry observers even suggested that marketers should relinquish control of their brands to their customers (but that's clearly not going to happen on a widespread basis in the near future).
Trends for 2006 So what does 2006 hold in store for marketers the world over? According to Neisser, there are several key marketing trends that are expected to become prominent during the year - some of which have already begun to take hold - such as:
- Brand democratisation To start with, 2006 promises to be another exciting year as more marketers yield to what Neisser calls "brand democratisation" - finding ways to involve the consumer in marketing efforts. While this is theoretically a good idea, it will be those who move in unexpected directions that are likely to be the ultimate winners. Copycats will simply attract shrinking audiences.
- Blogs standardise as corporate blogs increase Expect blogs to be standard items in the marketer's toolbox. Corporate blogs will continue to proliferate, with some earning consumer respect for their honesty and informative nature and others being ignored as obvious propaganda. Content blogs will deliver some degree of "street cred" for marketers who are smart enough to underwrite relevant editorial (and brave enough to let consumer-generated content run unfiltered!)
- More games for grown-ups Online gaming will continue to grow as a marketing tool, and for good reason: A well-crafted game can entice a sizeable audience to spend quality time with a brand without incremental marketing support. For example, the Nitrix game on Panasonic's website continues to draw 50,000+ players each month, despite the fact that it has never been promoted. Expect to see business-to-business (B2B) marketers taking an interest in online games, and using them as action-packed "edutainment" for clients, prospects and even internal sales teams.
- Appointment of corporate 'Blog Monitors' Blog Monitor will be the latest job title in corporate communications as marketers try to keep up with both positive and negative "buzz" in the marketplace. Consumer blogs will continue to multiply as mobile devices such as Sony's AIBO and Nokia's Lifeblog phone begin to support blogging on-the-fly. Blog networks such as WebLogsInc will make it easier for marketers to advertise on blog sites - particularly those that attract consistent audiences with high quality writing.
- Podcasting to be over-hyped... again Podcasting, perhaps the most over-hyped medium of 2005, will continue to be over-hyped in 2006. Even with the arrival of the new video-enabled Apple iPod, podcasting as an advertising vehicle is unlikely to be the success that progressive marketers hope it could be. Nonetheless, expect major television networks to provide video podcasts of their best programmes. And although the initial plan by ABC is to sell Desperate Housewives episodes for US$1.99, expect the networks to start negotiating sponsorship deals very soon. Of course the question has to be asked: who really wants to watch an entertainment show on a two-inch screen with tinny sound? Recent research (see 8th Nov. 2005) showed that consumers don't really want entertainment shows on their mobile phones - instead they want time-sensitive broadcasts such as news and sports updates.
- Social networking, ready for Prime Time Social networking, on the other hand, deserves some of the hype it received in 2005 and will blossom into an important part of 2006 online marketing plans. MySpace.com attracted over 36 million avid users in less than two years; FaceBook.com has taken college campuses by storm, with millions on board and the high school edition gaining ground rapidly. And business networks such as Plaxo and LinkedIn also have nearly 9 million users between them. With all these communities reaching critical mass, the challenge for marketers will be to find ways to get beyond the banner and ingratiate themselves with the target audience. A good example of this is Tickle - a massive social network with over 16 million registered users - which embeds advertising into its quizzes, allowing advertisers to engage the consumer without leaving the web site.
- Web-based applications New technologies will offer marketers the chance to reach consumers on their own computer's desktop in 2006 as well. Not since the heady days of PointCast have there been so many promising web-based applications that could give marketers on-going access to personal computers (and their users). Consumers will have real web-based software to work with. For example, Google's Gmail, with its friendly interface and huge storage capacity, is already attracting marketers from all directions. Expect marketers to try to replicate Southwest's custom application, Ding!, which not only placed the low-cost carrier on the desktop of millions of loyal customers but also allowed the airline to sell otherwise empty seats in a matter of minutes. With broadband internet penetration finally reaching critical mass, there will be no limitations to what marketers can do to engage the consumer on their PC desktop.
- Reality show fatigue The demise of reality shows is probably just around the corner, if it's not already here in the hearts of millions of TV ad-watching consumers. First, there are just too many players in the game. Second, as these shows have got better at integrating ads into their content, consumers are beginning to think of these shows as simply being long-form infomercials. This is a scary harbinger for branded entertainment in general as the potential for a consumer backlash looms on the horizon. So, while we expect one or two new reality shows to enjoy at least introductory success in 2006, TV fans can only hope that networks rediscover the joys of well-written comedies and dramas - and do so quickly.
- The big vs. small agency face-off Finally, in the marketing agency arena, expect a major face-off between small "idea agencies" and media-centric giants. Small agencies such as Mother, Strawberry Frog, Renegade Marketing, Crispin Porter, and Bogusky are among a handful that are a building reputations for channel-neutral, multi-disciplined brand marketing campaigns. And, in the past few months alone, smaller agencies have been noted sneaking in behind bigger agencies' backs to take over some major corporate accounts. But while some of these specific shifts may be noteworthy, expect an even bigger shift in how companies approach agencies in 2006. Major clients will begin to feel the benefits of having multiple marketing partners, and asking each for media neutral ideas. It may not be long before these brands start to appoint specific agencies for specific tasks within their marketing mix - perhaps designating one agency just for ideas (coming up with media and channel neutral ideas) while other single-discipline agencies are tasked with execution, according to their specialty.