When I was a child, I remember a friend who came to school one day with a pair of shiny football shoes. They were his new football shoes and he was eager to show them to us. His enthusiasm was matched by ours as we looked in awe, many of us with gaping mouths. While he showed them off, he also started telling us about how these shoes were supposed to improve our skills with the football. Gullible boys that we were, we believed him.
Storytelling is such a core aspect to human existence . From the moment we learn to communicate, we are trying to exchange thoughts with others — right from infancy. True, false, interesting or irrelevant, we are a species that loves to be heard. As Homo sapiens, our everlasting journey in communication has been long, arduous and ever-changing.
An interesting form of storytelling which unfolded upon us was advertisements. Interspersed between the meat of the content, it told us all a different story. While early advertisements told us more about the product, the later ones, like TV commercials, did very little. But this lack of substance was compensated by style and appeal. And it worked!
The last few decades of the 20th century transformed products from mere commodities to bold statements. Statements about our psychology, behaviour and aspirations. The quality of the product mattered little but the grandiosity of their advertisements and more importantly, the endorsers mattered more. So successful was this model that brands were willing to pay millions of dollars for celebrities to be the face of their product on a medium like TV.
TV advertisements usually spoke in tongues, all extraordinary and mesmerising. The focus of these advertisements were to create an aura that they stood out from the rest and were therefore the best.
The internet, albeit created for simpler uses, took on much more complex tasks and devoured them. A wise man said early in 2005 that “IP will eat everything”.
The internet, due to its democratic nature gave its users a sense of freedom, fairness and equality. Rightly said, it was no one’s to claim, yet it was everyone’s to claim. Before we knew it, the internet encompassed everything that was once a new dimension: text, art, pictures, movies, etc. The internet became the one-stop-shop for all our needs because it delivered what it promised.
Enter the 21st century. Storytelling still continues to be a part of our lives. We still want to show off and be heard. Thanks to technology, text, pictures and videos fit nicely in our palms and pockets. And they are affordable!
The internet made it possible for the world to view one’s room, kitchen or backyard. People were no longer sharing their quirks and possessions with just their friends. The world needed to know too. And when the world did, they responded because they could. The world shrunk owing to the might of the internet. Social networks consumed us irrespective of age, gender or geography.
Soon the internet surpassed TV, radio and newspapers as the most reliable source and was expected to continue on this trajectory.
This begs the question, what makes the internet so reliable? Or is the internet really reliable?
There is no right answer to this because of the way the internet is structured. For every credible post on the internet, there are at least a few that are not. But the rise of the internet inculcated a very important habit in our lives: research. The internet is risky and can be misleading, let alone dangerous. But research allows us to refine our searches, shortlist and discard options, and understand norms as well as trends. It also empowers the users to communicate with other uses in a community. But the users were not the only ones to understand this. The brands caught the drift too.
The power of research and communication reached its pinnacle when brands teamed up with social network users to talk about products in their stories. How was this different from what happened in the 20th century?
- The emphasis was the product itself and not the aura around it.
- The product was showcased in its bareness to the viewers.
- The voice of the common man was also used, in addition to celebrities, to endorse the product.
- The target audience shifted from a billion to a few thousand, but a more relevant thousand.
This style of marketing, also known as Influencer Marketing took ‘word of mouth’, an old favourite for creating awareness, across traditional borders. Influencer marketing was responsible for what we now call ‘word of mouth at scale’.
The convenience and dominance of Influencer marketing meant a slow and painful farewell to it’s older cousin, commercials. A study showed that 70% of teenage YouTube subscribers trusted influencer opinions over traditional celebrities.
To put things to perspective, here’s why commercials have officially become background noise in our lives and why Influencer marketing has taken its place.
- Commercials are interruptive and forced. Social media, on the other hand, gives us a choice.
- Salesmen were keepers of knowledge. But today, the internet and research makes this knowledge available to all.
- Commercials were strictly one-way. Influencer marketing enables a two-way communication channel.
- Commercials were for the masses. Influencer marketing is for the niches.
- It’s possible and easy to measure Return on Investment with the internet but not so with commercials.
I remember, soon after my friend, I and many other friends bought our first pair of football shoes. Most of them were exact replicas of his.
Credits: Icons made by Gregor Cresnar, Prosymbols and Freepik from Flaticon.