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How Advertisers Are Letting Go, and Learning to Love Social Software

After a long (and occasionally interesting) article about how big brand marketers have tried to use MySpace, Friendster, YouTube, et al to reach buyers, an ad exec offers this story:

Sometimes marketers find that in the end, the unplanned is what works best. Crispin Porter placed a new crop of Volkswagen commercials on YouTube and a handful of people watched them. Then a user uploaded a grainy version of one of the same commercials. It has been viewed more than 1.7 million times.

“You can’t explain this,” said Mr. Benjamin of Crispin Porter. “Someone passed it on to a friend, who passed it to others, until eventually it gets in the right people’s hands. You just can’t predict what will happen.”

More than anything, this exposes traditional marketing for the house of cards it is: we've never been able to predict how an audience will react to a message (or a messenger), but the blunt instruments for measuring mass media have always allowed enough wiggle room to let a strategy appear to be successful.For over a century, advertisers haven't been able to tell which half of the dollar they're wasting.

Marketers have to let go of the idea that they can predict, and embrace the good news that, for the first time, they can actually measure. It's nice to feel you know what will happen, but it's huge step forward for marketers to be able to know, definitively what has happened.

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