What if we took buzz seriously?

I wrote this post, which explains TBWA’s Media Arts philosophy that’s been developed for high profile clients.  This post was originally published (in French!) on the blog of @MryEmerey for his new “Tuesday Guest” section.  Enjoy!

Much ink has been spilled, and will continue to be spilled, about “buzz”.  What I find surprising, in France, but elsewhere, is the number of people who believe that buzz ought to be the result of a communications campaign and not as an essential ingredient in a media mix.  For many corporations (and sometimes agencies), buzz is seen as “icing on the cake”.  This reminds me of how people used to misunderstand PR, thinking of it as “a supplementary opportunity” to generate “clippings”.  Like press clippings, even if buzz’s effect is always measured AFTER the fact, brands must remember a simple truth: one must sow at the right moment to reap great rewards.  The harvest would be even greater if the elements necessary to create buzz were incorporated as compositions of the media mix.  It’s no accident that we know so much about the iPad before the ads even came out: this is thanks to buzz being wholly incorporated into Apple’s media narrative.  The Internet, by increasing the power of word-of-mouth news and spreading ideas at top speed (with only a language barrier stopping their spread) has durably transformed the capacity for brands to not only communicate but also engage (even enlist) their audience.  By definition, this sort of action begins at the beginning, not at the end!

With this belief in mind, we have developed a strategy for our biggest clients (Apple, Absolut, Nissan, Mars, Michelin and McDonalds among them) called Media Arts.  Media Arts aims to increase the value of an idea by making it pertinent to all types of media, in particular to earned media, or buzz.  Thus was born, for example, the Pepsi Refresh Project: Pepsi’s monthly 1.2 million dollar donation for general interest projects decided upon by Internet users.  “Buzz” is an integral part of this idea, because all projects need to be voted on!


Pepsi’s Earned Media

We must put a stop to our binary vision of media.  Indeed, marketers have often tried to cut media in two: “above-the-line and below-the-line” in the 20th Century, has become “Online and Offline” today.  These segmentations are not false, but merely too simple to apply to brands who have become media themselves and must optimize messages that they produce 365 days a year, at 360° (on all channels).  Advertisers must consider their clients as the top media.

The “Media Arts” approach is founded on a segmentation that takes into account 4 types of media (the fourth type is buzz).: 1) Owned media 2) Bought media 3) Created Media and 4) Earned Media.  What makes Media Arts so innovative, aside from the idea that media can now be created by brands, is the integration of earned media into the mix and not seeing it as a result.

This process takes into account something often underestimated in media plans: owned media.  All brands posses their own media that they can optimize in order to promote their messages, such as: their packaging, their merchandising, their sales locations, website and sometimes even their spokesperson.  We must remember something essential: the media that a brand owns are by far the most important because they do not just convey a message, but a brand experience.  An excellent example of this is Apple with its Apple Stores.

Apple’s Owned Media

Bought media (TV, radio, press, billboards and Internet space) is essential but costly.  Thus, these options must be analyzed and recommended as a complemented to other, more economical media.  The logic behind Media Arts applies to traditional purchased media as well as less traditional media, as the aim of Media Arts is to use all media with as much creativity as the message itself.

Nissan’s Bought Media

Created Media are created in-house, in a unique and targeted manner.  This type of media is today largely misunderstood and underused, with the exception of a few “megabrands”, including a soft drink company, an atheletic gear manufacturer and a certain Swedish furniture retailer.  An excellent example of this would be the “Replay” campaign for Gatorade, where a tied match between two local football rivals was replayed 15 years later.  Not only did the campaign garner awards at Cannes, it also attracted from around the world.  Another example would be the creation of a media that before didn’t exist: Nissan Qashqai lead a campaign in the tunnels of the Parisian metro.  We can also look to brands that create their own radio, like the French national railway, the SNCF.  When we create media, we own it.


Created Media


Earned Media is the gold standard: not only for its relatively low cost to reproduce, but also because it tends to have a ‘human touch’.  Earned media is different than more traditional media: it isn’t based upon material, but on people such as journalists, opinion leaders or even consumers.  If a brand wishes to invest in Earned Media, it must first pay attention to its clients!  Participating the client in a brand’s communication strategy is probably the biggest cultural revolution that Internet has brought to marketing.  This represents a paradigm shift: the client is no longer exterior to the brand but rather, she is invited to join the brand.  The risk (which can be seen as an opportunity) is that the client may become more demanding, her standards may rise, and she could become better informed about the brand and its business. This pushes the brand to treat the client well—considering one’s clients as one’s audience is a way of showing respect.

In a world where brands must learn, to paraphrase Danah Boyd : “to go with the flow, not to interrupt it”, buzz must be the primary preoccupation, and not the final one!

  1. Pingback: What if a product’s ads lived up to its performance? | Nicholas Bordas Blog

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