Reinventing Advertising: Tools, Youth, and Social Change

The first full day of WeMedia presented interesting challenges and opportunities regarding the state of new media, social change, and journalism. Conversations revolved around the future of traditional media, expanding the scope of social media companies to facilitate social change, how to more effectively run a business, how to reach target audiences, and more. As a social entrepreneur working at the intersection of social media, business, and international development, I was thrilled to see the range and depth of issues addressed. Representatives from the BBC, Ashoka, NPR, CNN, Fast Company, Global Voices, and Ushahidi were all present. As the founder of BOP Source and a writer for, I was excited to be part of the conversation and for this post I will share some key points and take-aways from one session in particular, “Reinventing Advertising.”

“Reinventing Advertising” looked at what the changing landscape of social media means for businesses, their reliance on advertising, and what they can do to better engage consumers. The workshop was facilitated beautifully by Marck Walsh of GeniusRocket and the panelists were Joe Marchese of SocialVibe, Melissa Godis of Crispin+Porter, and Sheryl Catell of LGD Communications.

The panel echoed many themes we are all familiar with: How do we make money from ads? Do ads belong on social networks? How do we get consumers excited about our brands so that they will welcome and endorse the presence of our ads on their sites?

Melissa represented the “agency” perspective and shared what I thought was the most important take-away: we must create tools for customers to engage with. Tools invite the customer into a conversation and educate them about products. Sheryl echoed the point by emphasizing that the days of banner ads will soon be over. I did not hear a framework emerge for what tools work best or how to create such tools, as we focused mostly on the questions and less so on answers. (Afterall, if we had the answers, we probably would not have needed a session on “Reinventing Advertising”).

Joe made the excellent point that everyone wants their ads to be viral sensations–the homemade video that is cheap to produce, rakes in millions, and becomes a “cultural phenomenon.” I often wonder about what features or qualities make a video viral; Joe thinks it at least has to be be funny, edgy, or scary, and does not necessarily have to carry the brand message. Check out the role of memes, if you’re not already familiar with the concept.

When we got on the topic of whether or not political campaigns will ever mimic consumer marketing campaigns, there were heated responses. Many asserted that Obama’s campaign was brilliantly executed and a shining example for companies.  Others thought that political campaigns are not quite there yet, but that both have a lot to learn from each other.

We covered a variety of topics, as you can tell, and the conversations were interesting and engaging. I was particularly impressed by SocialVibe’s ability to connect with youth through branding and at the same time empower them to be social change agents. SocialVibe seems to have their fingers on the pulse of youth culture and are using that knowledge and that userbase to positively impact the world, through young, MySpace-addicted, pop-culture-loving teenagers.

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