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Alternative Marketing: Website Advertising With New Media

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Alternative marketing, also known as word-of-mouth, aims to reach consumers more directly than by traditional advertising on radio or television, or in print. It tends to be confusing, though, beginning with the number of names by which it is called. You can pick your favorite from a regular buffet of terms: under-the-radar marketing, below-the-line marketing, renegade marketing, street marketing, ambush marketing, vanguard marketing, ambient marketing, guerrilla marketing, covert marketing, stealth marketing, viral marketing, or diffusion marketing. They are all equally evocative of a marketing style that is unconventional in concept and hit-and-run in execution. Let's look at just a few of the variations.

The Video Virus: Is it Catching?


Probably the best-known technique in alternative advertising is the viral video. A short video clip is produced, and slipped stealthily in front of the consumer by posting it on Internet forums, e-mails, video-sharing sites, and the like. This video is unlike the usual television commercial; it's usually either humorous, or controversial, or both. A TV commercial wants to transfer information about a product to the potential consumer. These viral videos may include information transference, but their purpose is to entertain and amuse you. The idea behind them is that if people are interested and amused, they will pass the video clip on to Internet friends, and more people will then see it. Somewhere in the video is usually something about a product, or at least its name. Advertising companies believe that the details about a product will be sought out by the audience, if they enjoyed the video enough.

This is an interactive model of advertising, in that the consumer is active in receiving, viewing, and passing on the video clip. Even by just doing those three things, a person is exerting more effort than the watcher of television, who is simply sitting and watching. To see a video clip, at a minimum you need to press Play, or click on an arrow. And if you like it enough, you may watch it a few more times, then send it to some of your friends in an e-mail. After all this, it's likely that you'll remember the product when you're in the market for something like it.

Blogs and Buzz

"Blog" is short for "web log". Merriam-Webster Online defines "blog" as "an online personal journal with reflections, comments, and often hyperlinks provided by the writer". Blogs are a great way to reach an audience that pays no attention to traditional print and television advertising. Their contrast with the cleverly-produced values that are hyped on corporate websites is their "homespun" character. The voice in which they are told might be your own voice; at any rate, it's the voice of ordinary, everyday folks. Many blogs are still, essentially, online diaries written by an individual; others have begun to dabble in the waters of marketing.

Anybody at all can set up a blog, as long as they have an Internet connection and something to say. There are webhosting services for sale that will help you create your own website for a blog, but you can get into blogging without hiring such a service. Most of the social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace, YouTube, or LiveJournal offer free blogging capabilities. In fact, there are so many sites and possibilities for blogging on the Internet that a new term, "blogosphere, " has been invented to encompass blogs and their myriad interconnections.

The marketing sphere and the blogosphere are beginning to intersect. Advertisers want to create "buzz" around their products: what better way than to get people talking about a product on their blogs? Young people, Generation Y-ers, and cool young professionals go to the Internet for the same services their parents would find in a telephone directory, an atlas, a road map, a radio or TV news program. This means that the Internet is the perfect place for advertisers to show their wares to potential customers. And blogs, because they are so friendly and believable, are the perfect medium for creating credibility.

You Can't Get Away from the Ads!

The next new angle for advertising is the "captive audience". Several companies like TransitTV are working this angle for all it's worth. In five major US cities, over 3, 000 buses, trolleys, and other public vehicles now have 8, 400 screens installed to reach the captive audience. If you're on a bus, in an elevator, or sitting in a restroom stall - you can't get away from the ads! You can't fast-forward through the commercials, or even turn the TV off! You are stuck, and even if you determinedly avoid looking at the screen, you can't help hearing the sound.

TransitTV offers advertisers just what they want: an audience that is completely captive. There is only one channel, hence no flipping a remote from channel to channel when the commercials come on. There's nothing else to watch. There is no way to get away from the commercial. Sometimes the commercials are hidden in what's supposed to be a review of current events, a watered-down, not-of-the-moment news program; sometimes they are not. They're the only game in town. Your only defense, as a consumer, is to avoid public transportation and elevators like the plague.

TransitTV also gives the advertising companies detailed demographic breakdowns of people exposed to their network. In addition, they can provide accurate measurements of advertising success. Advertisers love them; soon they'll be everywhere.

"How's It Going? Here, Try This!"

In an effort to make marketing more personal, and create real connections between advertisers and the people they want to target, "street teams" are becoming more popular. These people are paid to go out on the downtown streets and talk to people they encounter. They are a little like the lady in the supermarket with the bite-size samples of something or other - except that it's easy enough to take another aisle if you don't want to deal with the Sample Lady. The Street Team is right out there, walking alongside you, asking you to try something it's very hard just to brush past. It's rude. They are counting on the likelihood that you won't want to appear discourteous, and that you will have a verbal exchange with them, and maybe even agree to taste the crackers or cereal they're pushing. They have already put up fliers and posters all over the buildings, so you've seen the name of the product just recently

This is a first step in the creation of buzz. Advertisers have decided that the best way to get started on a network of personal connections that will be buzzing about their product is to force the personal connection between consumers and a company.

Buzz buzz buzz

"Buzz" is defined by Merriam-Webster Online as "speculative or excited talk or attention relating especially to a new or forthcoming product or event." It's estimated that consumers are exposed to about 3, 000 commercial messages every day; so in order to cut through the clutter and make a point about your product, you've got to try something different. All the alternative advertising methods touched upon here are designed to create buzz and keep it going.

And buzz is a whole lot cheaper to use than traditional advertising. During primetime viewing hours, it costs an advertiser about $450, 000 for a 30-second spot on television, for just a single airing. That's just the airtime; it doesn't include any production costs, actors, etc. Enough advertisers are investigating and using buzz that they have actually formed an association to try to weed out unscrupulous word-of-mouth advertisers. The Word-of-Mouth Marketing Association was formed in 2001, and is working with the Federal Trade Commission to set up guidelines to regulate marketing practices and prevent dishonest strategies.


Paul Colter is an Internet marketing professional who specializes in Mississauga Web Design. For more information, or to inquire about services, please visit: http://www.vawebdesign.com

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