Jun 6, 2007

The Real Digital Revolution

Remember you heard it here first ;)

The Real Digital Revolution has nothing to do with advertising or marketing. In fact, it's the mortal enemy of advertising and marketing.

Because the real digital revolution is about consumer empowerment, the ability to research and learn about products and services and make decisions independent of marketing and advertising.

The car companies are the ones who are hardest hit by this development. Given that a car is the second most expensive purchase you'll make in your life (your home being the first), sophisticated consumers are flocking to review sites, message boards and the like to get the real deal on the car they plan to buy. And even to find out what kind of car someone like them should buy. A pretty shocking development in a market that was shrouded in mystery and misinformation for years.

Sure there was Consumer Reports and the car magazines. But CR attracted a very specific, Naderesque demographic and the car magazines were rarely concerned about the sorts of things the average car buyer was concerned about, especially if the average car buyer had kids.

Now what all this information does is destroy the power of advertising. I might see some new VW ads and think they're great, so great that I decide I want to buy a Jetta for my next car. But, if I go online and read about how much the Jetta sucks and how much better the Nissan Sentra is, I'm buying the Sentra. No matter how much Marc Horowitz (the guy who lived in a Sentra for seven days) bugs me.

The informed digital consumer is a threat to any business where there are objective standards for judging the product. So while certain foods may be immune (you either like Oreos or you don't, there's not much objectivity there) even packaged goods like laundry detergent can fall vicitm too, since there's an objective standard for how clean your clothes are getting.

All the BS you hear from the New Media wing about "conversations" is just a fancy word for people sharing objective opinions of products on review sites, blogs and other digital media. The "conversation" is when the marketer responds to criticism with a pledge to try harder or some such. Which, as I've told Joseph Jaffe, is just common sense. But enough "conversations" about how bad your product is, no amount of clever advertising or clever media placement is going to save it.

The people have spoken.

To give you an example: I want to buy an iPod adapter for my car. So I went to the online Apple store, Amazon and CNET and read a bunch of reviews. Winnowed them down, listened to the experts, eliminated the clear whiners and the "can you believe how cool technology is" know-nothings. And learned that (a) the category's improved a lot over the past several years (it seems static was a big issue) and that (b) the Kensington adapter enjoys a very slight advantage over the Monster one, and while both would be fine choices, the Kensington is $20 cheaper. So Kensington it is.

And while I may be more advanced than your average consumer, I see more and more purchase decisions being made this way. Clever ad campaigns be damned.

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