Big advertisers are interested in experimenting with new forms of online advertising. Frank Cooper, a senior vice president at Pepsi and its chief consumer engagement officer, said onstage at the event that big brands today have to be open to trying out different advertising schemes in order to reach an increasingly fragmented audience. Cooper said he’s been closely following the ways people behave in online social spaces, and he’s interested in finding ways to weave in place a layer on top of that experience, with a brand that consumers perceive as adding value. He said the big question is, “Where do we actually have a deeper engagement with consumers?”
To Cooper, engagement goes beyond convincing a person to buy something. It’s been achieved when the consumer feels he or she has a relationship with the brand and steps forward to act on behalf of the brand or with the brand. For example, Pepsi recently ran a campaign inviting customers to suggest changes to its popular Mountain Dew drink. But engagement can be hard to measure using traditional methods, Cooper acknowledged, but he believes that big brands today are competing for this type of attention from consumers. They’re competing for cultural impact, not just product sales.
Advertising companies of this type, however, will have to demonstrate that they can sustain interest from clients beyond the experimentation phase. Some companies, for instance Starbucks and Red Bull, have shown they’re willing to try out new types of online campaigns. But companies offering these alternative ways to advertise online will have to demonstrate strong value at some point to win advertising dollars from more cautious companies, the judges noted. Chris Fralic, for example, a judge who is also a managing partner of FirstRound Capital, noted that some of these more experimental companies seem to have appeal only to advertisers who have already bought into the idea of user-generated content.