Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Power of Community

Last week AT&T released a new commercial entitled “Responsibilities”, a thirty second piece that plays on the idea that everyone in a typical office uses their smart phone for everything but actual work. It has received an explosion of views, about 700,000 YouTube views in just the first four days of being online. Now while this commercial is funny, its popularity doesn’t stem from its humor, or the quality of the product it is selling, but rather it is all the attention it has received on Reddit.com.

Nate Dern was making his commercial debut after three years of auditioning and decided to share his success with the community of Reddit. He posted his video on the site last Monday and to his surprise gained an explosion of views over the course of that first day as hundreds of people “up voted” the video promoting it the front page for all to see. People seem to have fallen in love with the idea that one of their own, a fellow Redditor, had made it into a TV spot, and all he says is a simple “Huh?” As this blog post was being written, Nate Dern’s commercial debut has 2882 total “up votes” on Reddit and was at one point the number one link on the websites front page.

What this phenomena is demonstrating is the marketing power that third party post sites are capable of producing. The AT&T commercial is not the first company to benefit from being posted on Reddit, however.

The spread of Chuck Testa’s taxidermy commercial and the video of Judge Williams beating his daughter exploded into the homes of millions, thanks to the community voting system of Reddit. The site has become a powerful tool for spreading news, images, videos, and complaints about companies or services. According to businessinsider.com, Reddit had 1.8 billion viewers in the month of October alone. With this kind of viewership, companies would love for their products or services to get some percentage of this attention.

One reason that Reddit is a powerful tool for spreading information in such a rapid manner is the fact that it does not create exclusive social circles like Facebook or Twitter, but instead lets anyone post and everyone view these posts. Once something is posted, anyone can view it, and those who have created a free account can vote for or against the post. The more positive votes a link receives, the closer the post will move towards the front page.

The problem with all of this, however, is that the products in the commercials are not the ones benefiting from all the publicity; it is the actors themselves. Sure, thousands of people have viewed the commercial, but at the end of it, are people thinking I want that phone, or “Man, well executed, huh?" The millions of views that Chuck Testa’s first commercial received has not translated into increased sales. It has, however, spawned many spin-off videos and started a small demand for Chuck Testa t-shirts. The brand loyalty in this case is to the Mr. Testa and Mr. Dern, not the product they are selling. People online are pushing for Dern to be featured in a second commercial with AT&T and maybe this time with a couple more lines.

What advertisers need to learn is how to harness the communal benefits of sites such as Reddit or Digg, to create attention around a product much like it has for people. The static advertising word that Don Draper lived in is dying, and we are move into a marketing world run by the consumer. It is becoming apparent that companies need to figure out the best way to harness this communal power. It has shown its ability to create an almost cult following for people such as Nate Dern and Chuck Testa, but its potential for creating such a buzz around a product is yet to be tapped.

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