Recommendations from ethnographic report on addressing the failures of one-way, bombardment-oriented advertising

The Associated Press, Context-Based Research Group and Carton Donofrio Partners investigated what online information devourers think of advertisements. This study builds off and references a previous one (pdf here) about news consumption.

The main problem they’re addressing is the atomization of information and how it gets delivered on the Web. You know how it goes: We get pinged every second by micro-updates, snippets and interruptions, all often arriving without context or background. The result? Everything becomes noise. Ads, it turns out, annoy us to the point of anger.

Here’s the report’s big-picture fix to this problem: To cut through the clutter of the Internet, we need to abandon one-way missives, and embrace two-way conversations that inspire loyalty and trust.

Sounds good, but sounds hard, too. I’m not even sure how you define what a conversation is. Being deeply authentic in any one-on-many conversation is nearly impossible, no matter how open you are to comments and submissions. And how much time can a company realistically invest in responding to every individual’s question and comment (there is of course a limit, unless you push the work, I mean conversation, onto a network)? But maybe that’s not the goal. And I have a suspicion that most consumers will provide sarcastic floggings of any brand trying to use authenticity and friendly chats in the service of making sales. Because that is the result that companies pay marketers for, right?

In the process of this research, the mad scientists discovered a strong consumer demand for, as mentioned above, two-way conversations that are transparent and honest. People “seek a new relationship that is built on trust, not simply on the value of the content or advertising itself.” (pages 4-5).

This idea is described as not just a communication technique, but a new communication environment – a new context for chit chatting about your favorite vacuum cleaner. That environment gets a name: Communitas, with which there “is no such thing as one-way communication.” The transition to this environment is perhaps the answer to a Web world that has left me a bit rattled.

A lot of this is confirming what many media freaks already suspected, so my questions after reading the report are along the lines of, “OK, but how do you actually do this in terms of cost, time, authenticity and efficacy?” The report does go into the AP’s specific efforts to do so around news on page 59 (AP’s engagement model), but I’ll let you dig into that.

Here are the general recommendations:

  1. Match Your Organization’s Principles to the Attributes of Communitas
    > How do your strategies, products, ser- vices and people fare in terms of collaboration, adhering to the social contract, developing kinship, reciprocity and relevance?
  2. Create Environments for Communitas to Break Out
    > The solution is not just to create more engaging content. The solution is to create better environments for engaging with content.
  3. Embrace the Challenge, No Matter the Size of Your Organization
    > Information companies and advertisers of all sizes should benefit from strengthening their relationship with the audience.
  4. Parting Thought: Give Real Communication a Chance
    > Whether you are a student of anthropology or not, the message from this research is that a new path is opening for both

And the ad folks were inspired to come up with the campaign Stop the Adness. Its principles:

  1. Collaboration – We must work with the marketplace — coming together with mutual respect for each other’s roles — to determine what more effective communication looks like.
  2. Social Contract – The unwritten code that defines our behavior has been broken by advertisers, agencies and the media. We must show consumers that with their help we can rebuild it.
  3. Kinship – We must recognize mutual respon- sibility and accountability within the marketplace as a means toward building better communication.
  4. Honesty – Marketing spin and hype will no longer be tolerated in the new communications landscape, so we must be honest and transparent.
  5. Reciprocity – Good communication requires give and take; so we must listen and respond accordingly.
  6. Relevance – The market will listen when our message is relevant and targeted; so we must do more to better craft our messages.
  7. Information – We must provide solid facts on which to base our communication and advertising.
  8. Investigation – We must provide a clear roadmap for people who want to dig deeper.
  9. Overload – We must be careful how much and how often we communicate so as not to overload consumers.
  10. Sharing – When our information and ad- vertising is shared we will know we are doing our job right.

 

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