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Can Advertising be Social?

_This article is by Guest Contributor Kate Trgovac, reporting from the “BlogOn”: conference._
Moderated by Steve Hall, publisher of “AdRants”: this panel discussed the changing nature of advertising and branding, particularly in light of social media and consumers’ growing ability to critique, comment or even produce *better* advertising than agencies. The panel included “Joseph Jaffe”:, President and Founder, jaffe LLC; Mark Kingdon, CEO, Organic (see our “5 Questions for Mark Kingdon”:; and David Rubin, Brand Development Director (“Axe Deodorant”:, Unilever.
To set the tone, Hall put the titular question to the panel: So, can Advertising be social?

Kingdon (representing “The Agency World”) asserted that it is all about context. Social media can provide a context for your brand. The key equation is Brand + Context = Opportunity. Inappropriate marketing (opportunity) will result in a customer backlash. (Me: Especially if we believe that the *customer* truly owns the brand.] Jaffe believes that advertising can be social, but it is more the commentary on the advertising (e.g. on a television commercial) rather than via the distribution mechanism itself.
Rubin builds on Kingdon’s thoughts – find the core meaning of the brand, for example, “Axe helps you pick up girls”, and then get social media talking about the brand. It may not be appropriate for the brand to have a blog (really, who blogs about a deodorant?), but there may be something else you can do that gets other people blogging about you. Case in point, Axe’s recent promotion sponsorship of “Evan and Gareth”: Rubin cautions that you need to decide if it is better for your brand to be talked about in *any* way or not to be talked about at all. He encourages brands to let people talk about them – it shows their relevance.
Jaffe sums it up, “consumers expressing what they love about a brand is the closest to heaven that (marketers) can get.”
Hall directed his next question to Kingdon, “How do you approach a client about using Social Media?”
First, he works with a client to accept that it is a new era of engagement, with the consumer and with the brand. Second, develop a systematic approach to *listening* to the blogosphere (e.g. maybe you want to use it to get new product ideas). Finally, Kingdon asserts, confident brands build the community into the experience of the brand (he cites “Sonos”: as an example of a brand that ensures the community is part of the experience).
Key idea: information always changes economics. Information will change the economics of marketing! Companies will spend more resources building great products and helping people use them, rather than just telling people about them.
Hall: So brands need to be the enabler of experience?
Rubin: Brands need to be *about* something. Something beyond the functional. Axe is not about “smelling good”; Axe is about “getting women”.
Question from the audience: So how *do* marketers engage?
[Aside: This came up several times. It was heartening to see the audience contain marketers who *want* to engage. There was a tension here between “old-time” bloggers who insist on making fun of marketers and “new-school” marketers who wanted to learn. I think some of the blogosphere’s “A-listers” are going to have to step down from their horses.]
Rubin: Be part of the conversation. If someone calls out, respond! Citing the examples of the school-teacher who created an “Apple commercial”: as well as Jaffe’s “Nike ad”: he admonishes marketers to “take a risk!”
Jaffe: Share what you’re doing! Marketers have the obligation to share best practices with each other.
_Kate Trgovac is currently Manager, Web Evolution for Petro-Canada. Prior to joining Petro-Canada, Kate spent eight years developing user experience strategies for clients at several interactive agencies in Toronto. She writes about technology, branding, user-experience and other topics of note on her blog “”: ._

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