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Why Don Draper Types Can’t Control Brand Content Anymore

cartoon, word-of-mouth marketingMarketers all want to generate word of mouth, but we sometimes forget it inherently means giving up control. We need to remember that brand advocates are just as big a part of the content marketing team as content marketers themselves. 

Recently, Nutella discovered a superfan named Sara Rosso. On her own, Rosso started World Nutella Day. She shared Nutella recipes, wrote stories, and posted fan photos. Over a few years, through her creation of brand content, she built up an audience of 40,000 like-minded Nutella aficionados on Facebook. She was basically doing the content marketing job on behalf of Nutella, yet she wasn’t on the payroll.

How did Nutella respond when it discovered Sara Rosso, brand content marketer extraordinaire? It sent her a cease-and-desist letter.

Eventually Ferraro (maker of Nutella) backed down, but its knee-jerk reaction reflects the command-and-control mindset that drives most forms of marketing. It’s time for marketers to recognize that businesses never really own their brands, or control their brand content. Their customers do.

One of my first marketing roles was with Green Giant, a top advertising icon of the 20th century. When I joined the brand team, I found a brand brief written (literally) by a young Leo Burnett. In the early days of marketing, brands were crafted by men like Burnett and reflected in Don Draper. Every communication point was carefully scripted and controlled.

But with the explosion of marketing channels and the rise of empowered consumers, command-and-control marketing is over. The Drapers of this world are no longer in charge. We can’t script the creative force of brand advocacy, but we can channel it.

The Philippines’ Department of Tourism recently developed a content marketing campaign that gave up control of the message to its fans. To increase tourism, it decided not to generate content about the region itself, as most visitors departments do. Instead, it created a simple app called, “It’s more fun in the Philippines,” which allows anyone to upload any picture and write any message about what he or she found to be fun in the Philippines. The app then generates a single shareable image that combines the picture, text, and contributor’s name.

Creativity erupted, and #morefuninthephilippines became the top trending topic on Twitter. Submissions included a house made entirely of tropical flowers with the tagline, “Home Improvement. More fun in the Philippines,” and a photo of a barbecued pig on a platter with the tagline, “Planking. More fun in the Philippines.

A more provocative submission showed a cockfighting photo and the tagline, “Angry Birds. More fun in the Philippines.” While the Philippines’ Department of Tourism likely doesn’t endorse cockfighting, it allowed that communication to be displayed. And by handing over the content marketing reins to its audience, it increased visitors to the Philippines by 16 percent.

Remember: Rather than command-and-control brand content, our job as marketers is to inspire and amplify.

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our quarterly magazine.