May 5, 2013

Pitchmen using guerrilla tactics to reach everyone we know

Modern marketers desperately want to fit in – into our blogs, our Twitter feeds, our status updates. Why? Because word-of-mouth works.

By MICHAEL SERAZIO

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Staff Photo Illustration/Michael Fisher

As Ted Murphy, the founder and CEO of one "social media influencer" firm, emblematically explained to me, "This is the natural evolution of marketing. If you're saying that media is moving to the people, well, if the people are now creating all the media, then the people become the platform."

And as the people become the platform, the marketing industry is undergoing some profound shifts. Most visibly, the roles of advertising and public relations are blurring. The vibrant and participatory online culture that has developed in the past decade -- a landscape of Pinterest boards, WordPress journals, TripAdvisor reviews and YouTube commentary -- means that clients are demanding more and more word-of-mouth and social-media campaigns from their public-relations reps. And as those campaigns supplement, or even replace, conventional advertising, independent PR firms have become ripe acquisition targets.

The crucial question for the future of the business (and culture) is whether these social-media spaces can retain the feeling of authenticity that marketers find so valuable. Buzz marketing is fueled by the slick logic of "social capitalism," in which friendship becomes a commodity like any other, and online influence gets sized up for exploitation. But as much as certain management gurus like to gush, no one wants to be friends with a brand.And as the people become the platform, the marketing industry is undergoing some profound shifts.

Most visibly, the roles of advertising and public relations are blurring. The vibrant and participatory online culture that has developed in the past decade -- a landscape of Pinterest boards, WordPress journals, TripAdvisor reviews and YouTube commentary -- means that clients are demanding more and more word-of-mouth and social-media campaigns from their public-relations reps.

As those campaigns supplement, or even replace, conventional advertising, independent PR firms have become ripe acquisition targets.

The crucial question for the future of the business (and culture) is whether these social-media spaces can retain the feeling of authenticity that marketers find so valuable. Buzz marketing is fueled by the slick logic of "social capitalism," in which friendship becomes a commodity like any other, and online influence gets sized up for exploitation. But as much as certain management gurus like to gush, no one wants to be friends with a brand.

Michael Serazio is an assistant professor of communication at Fairfield University and the author of “Your Ad Here: The Cool Sell of Guerrilla Marketing.”

 

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