Jeffrey Chester has done a lot of work to help ensure that the voices of the many are heard on the web and that it remains a tool to enable, not to control people. So, when he mentions us, we take notice.
He recently wrote an eye-opening piece on the Google-YouTube deal that reminds us to pay attention to the business of internet–and keep in mind who contributes to and benefits from powerful forms of interactive media. He is concerned that, "the U.S. broadband infrastructure may well become one giant "brandwashing" machine." He refers to Oddcast as a "a new medium for marketing to get inside consumers’ heads."
Well, as consumers ourselves, "brandwashing" just makes us feel uncomfortable. We don’t know invading heads too much either. Seems very, well… invasive. Jeffrey added, "The most powerful communications system ever developed by humans is
increasingly being put in the service of selling, commercialization and
commodification." This perspective made us think a lot about the way marketing and advertising is trending on the web.
First, is the extent of the commercialization of this medium really accurate? There is certainly more commercial activity on the web than ever before, but as a percentage of advertising spend, it is still less than 5%. Taking into consideration the growing number of hours Americans are spending online, and the decline in newspaper circulation and television viewing, it still seems to be the least commercialized medium we have.
There are a few reasons for that. First off, the cost of participating and contributing to the medium has plummeted. There is more non-commercial content available on the web than any other medium by far. Inexpensive technology will enable that to continue and grow. The growth of blogs, Wikipedia, Mozilla, and even Craiglist are testaments to idea that powerful forces on the web can come from individuals or groups who are not necessarily economically motivated. In addition, the costs of switching are non-existent. With a few clicks, a user can very easily change which source they get their news from, or compare sources side by side, and then get commentary by people they know and trust.
So, when brands want to participate in this kind of medium, they have to change the way they behave. We agree with Jeffrey that it would be terrible if the internet goes the way of television–a limited number of broadcasted options without feedback mechanisms, all controlled by major media companies whose commercial agendas probably have priority. But, it is hard to see how that could happen, despite news like the recent Google-YouTube deal. Just as quickly as YouTube gained traction, particularly with youth, it could lose its luster. If they went the route of broadcasted, one-way, mindless advertising by companies that youth don’t identify with , users would pick up and move. User choice is king.
That’s why we feel comfortable with our position in the medium. By giving users the tools to opt-in to interacting with the elements of brands, Oddcast is increasingly making even the business and marketing aspects of the web user-controlled. Everyday, we fight the good fight with brands and agencies by encouraging them to loosen the reigns on their message, instead putting control of their message in the hands (and voices) of consumers.
Jeffrey also pointed to a future of the web where, "the interests of the self and the consumption of products are the primary, most visible, media messages." Another point we feel strongly about is that when users are empowered
on the web, brands are forced to care about the things that users care
about. Witness the 450,000+ MySpace friends of the JoinRed page, which is a campaign where brands agree to sell red products and donate proceeds to charity to fight world disease. Just as easily as the web can become a "brandwashing" mechanism, it can become an "causewashing", "carewashing", and "freedomwashing" platform as well.
At the end of the day, we know that media will generally be ad supported, but we think that the current trends on the web are to create more engaging, more social, and more transparent commercial interactions. Users simply have too much control, too much choice, too much input into the web now for this to start moving backwards. Either way, as Robert Young wrote, Google will clearly have the first and biggest opportunity to get this right in the video world now.