Some Perspective Please

Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba have extended the idea of citizen journalism to the field of marketing. On their blog, Church of the Customer, they wax poetic about where they see this new development going.
“Traditional media structures are undergoing vast molecular changes that decentralize their power, diminish their reach and usurp their authority. This bubbling stew of change is creating the DNA for a new forum of marketing unlike any other. It may make brand managers accustomed to top-down message control blanch, but it’s too late. The construct is set. Message control is obsolete. Marketing control is futile.
The citizen marketers are here.”
One example of citizen marketing they offer up is the case of George Masters, the California school teacher who spent five months making a graphically rich TV spot for Apple. The thing that gets me about all this speculation and unwarranted exuberance is the assumption that Masters, and others like him, are actually offering their work to the client in question. They’re not. The motivation is purely personal. Masters and the creative team behind the suicide bomber spot for VW that bounced around the web recently made their spots to showcase their abilities. That’s all. There’s nothing more to it.
How this central fact in this ongoing story has been overlooked is the part I’m most interested in exploring. It seems to me that several smart people who happen to blog (and the journalists who read them) are getting caught up in the blog bubble. It reminds me of the late 1990s when everyone with a half-baked web-based business idea thought their fortune was lurking around the next corner. We know how that worked out. So this is my message to my fellow bloggers–step away from the computer for a minute and realize that blogs, and the citizens behind them, are not poised to dethrone traditional journalism, any more than Final Cut Pro-equipped brand evangelists are due to overthrow traditional marketing.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. Hi David!
    As one of those exuberant people (sorry, I forgot to apply for a warrant, and when I did I forgot to enclose the cheque) I do not assume “that Masters, and others like him, are actually offering their work to the client in question”.
    That would, if anything, make me less exuberant. What I’m enjoying is seeing people doing creative stuff because, get this, they feel inspired to do so.
    Second: I would rather get away from predictions about what other people may or may be doing. I do know I like seeing the establishment getting upset.

  2. I’m glad you make no such erroneous assumptions, Johnnie. But let me ask you, with no outlet for this “inspired” work from “citizen marketers” what “vast molecular changes” is the ad industry supposed to be upset about? I’m far from upset, for one. Of course, I’m no Jack Trout. Unlike Trout I see nothing to be concerned about.
    In this business we have an old adage–great ideas can come from anywhere. That holds true today. And if great ideas were to surface from the ranks of customers (evangelists or no), I assure you we’d absorb them in a nanosecond.

  3. Well David I’m sure you’re a very absorbent fellow and perhaps by “we” you mean you and your close colleagues. But if you’re referring to the whole industry, I don’t agree with your picture of this wildly flexible, innovative, try-anything that works picture. I’ve worked in it too, and it has plenty of fossils as well as new life.
    On my own radar, I’m more and more aware of companies being rumbled by bloggers and I think that’s 1. Good and 2. Growing. I don’t know how big it will grow but I hope it does.
    I still don’t what you think is so siginficant about the motivation of these, er citizen marketers, being “purely personal”. I wonder: are you basically arguing that only those who work for money can be taken seriously on a topic?

  4. First, allow me to thank you for participating in this conversation.
    I honor free. I write poems, stories and essays for free and I’d like to think there’s some value there for my readership, however minute it may be. But my doing so is not about disrupting the status quo. In fact, toiling in obscurity is the status quo for a writer.
    I think if we look at the Firefox example it may prove beneficial. Citizen marketers pooled their resources to make and run a full page ad in The New York Times. Why? Because there was no one else to do it. Firefox had no agency, nor the resources to hire one. I salute these brand evangelists, although I think the ad they ran was far from remarkable.
    So what are we talking about? I’m talking about McConnell and Huba extending the idea of citizen journalism–which clearly has some traction–to marketing. Their particular write up, at least to me, is way over the top. And all the people who said VW was cluetrainless a few weeks ago, that too was way over the top for me. The suicide bomber spot and the Masters’ Apple spot were good, but not as good as the current work being done for these two iconic brands. So what’s all the excitement about?
    As for bloggers helping to keep a company honest, I say good. I want advertising to be more honest. I want it to be better. Sure there are plentry of calcified ad men and ad women out there who could care less. Screw them. There are also plenty of ad men and ad women who want to incorporate what’s new and good. Amateur ads may from time to time may be of some value, but so far, I see that value as minimal at best.