In the age of social networks, content evolves hand-in-hand with the mode of dissemination. What matters is pass-along potential, and nothing gets passed along like humor, particularly sarcasm or the thrill of the ‘gotcha’ moment. Sound bites have always been part of political communication, but decisions about which bites to air used to be in the hands of at least half-way responsible and accountable editors. Now everybody has a say in deciding what gets disseminated, and everybody seems to like passing along the put-down more than the uplift.
My interest, as a marketing professor, is in the way this shift is playing out in the world of brands.
Social media are making life difficult for mainstream marketers. Insurgents use so-called “earned” media in place of paid media, creating video ads passed from friend to friend that like to target the imperfections of national brands and the excesses of mass consumer culture. Parodies on YouTube have come to haunt companies. Consider the audience drawn toGreenpeace’s targeting Nestle over the destruction of rainforests to grow palm oil, publicity overthe lawsuit that North Face brought against the college student who dreamed up the South Butt clothing line, and the tormenting of Toyota by myriad amateur parodists.
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