I would never go so far as to describe myself as a renaissance man, but in the last few years, I can say I took great pride in having put a great deal of myself into all those burgeoning new technologies to advertise and build a halfway decent living for myself. I've written copy for new websites, edited it for existing websites, and offered advice to up-and-coming web entrepreneurs. However, what I've found most intriguing has been the influx of work and payment for my services in the realm of social networking.
In what started out as a way for people to keep in touch and share their favorite music, social networking has become the kind of medium that no one ever thought TV could become. It goes so much beyond what television ever envisioned. It's interactive, global, and user-generated on nearly every level. There is no programming, no corporate voice, and no sense of gloss.
Of course, big business has done its best in recent years to remedy that by buying out the biggest networks and slapping a million ads on every page they can find. No one disagrees that the nearly 200 million registered users on a site like MySpace are the ideal demographic for just about everything. Just seeing what MySpace was able to do to the music industry is evidence enough of that.
However, in my year or so of interaction with MySpace and the individuals who are trying to use it to build fan bases, I have come away with a few interesting perspectives.
Corporate or Not?
First off, the questions that would traditionally apply to advertising and new marketing space don't quite fit with the world of social networking. We're not talking about static space anymore. This isn't a billboard on the corner of 1st and Pine, or a television spot in the first five minutes of a football game. This is the Internet, where nearly 70% of the world's population has spent some small portion of their time. Markets are no longer measured as much by gender, age, and viewing habits, but by the languages we speak and the pages we access.
So, with the billion-dollar takeovers of sites like MySpace and YouTube, big business has had to re-envision how they interact with their base. Ironically, it's the individuals who use MySpace and the likes to advertise their own products that have had the most success and been the most creative in utilizing this new space. Authors offer free excerpts or even full versions of their books. Artists and musicians keep blogs free of the corporate, marketed slant that a band bio page always holds. People are able to get more involved with the arts and entertainment they enjoy than they ever have before on an exponential level.
What Does that Mean?
It's not a question of what this means for marketing firms and corporate advertising exactly. We all see the ads pummeling us on almost every website these days, always looking slicker and more inventive than ever before. Big movie studios will rent out the entire layout of MySpace in what must be a multi-million-dollar campaign. And despite how campy it all seems, we still use these sites and see these ads. For decades, that's been the sole goal for many companies―exposure.
It's not a matter of exposure and reaching demographics at all. It's a question of effectiveness and competition. Because advertising is now waged on a virtual domain where physical space and cost does not exist, the guerilla marketing campaigns of independents are more effective than ever. Underground is still underground, but when a few clicks and a little blog word of mouth shares an especially catchy song or YouTube video with 100 million people in less than 24 hours, anyone can become a web celebrity or sell an album.
It forces big business to start thinking outside the box a little more. We saw the first user-generated commercials ever aired on television this year during the Superbowl. They weren't amazing or incredible, but their stark lack of special effects or famous actors and YouTube sensibility to appeal to nearly anyone with a basic sense of humor was a huge change from the usual $2 million Super Bowl fair.
The Future of Marketing and the Internet
Everyone knows that advertising never fully migrates when a new medium kicks in. Television became the home of most advertising in the 1950s for sure, but newspapers and magazines still held a lot of importance in the scheme of things. The Internet is surely the same when compared to television. It's a completely different style of advertising.
Google's revolutionary use of targeted ads has become the standard now on almost all websites. Billions of dollars pass electronically every year between individual site owners and businesses whenever a regular user, like you or me, click on that simple ad on the bottom of a blog post. There are almost no websites online anymore that don't have at least a few basic ads.
However, with oversaturation has also come subtlety and the realization that the ads do in fact work. Websites make huge money, Google is the most dynamic and exciting company in the world, and MySpace continues to grow exponentially every day with new bands, artists, and writers trying to spread the word.
The argument that there could ever be oversaturation is hard to accept, if only because oversaturation presupposes that there is a limited audience. With the Internet, the entire world is a captive audience and with nearly 7 billion residents, it's almost impossible to imagine running out of people to sell things to, whether for the better or to the detriment of humanity.