Since the Middle Ages when guilds were all the rage, groups of people in every profession have done what they could to raise the barriers of entry into their profession. It is simple self-interest to do so. The fewer people who could ‘officially’ call themselves, say, alchemists or doctors or lawyers or journalists, the less the competition and the higher the prices they could charge. Tests like the bar exam or guild fees or educational prerequisites are examples of barriers to entry that self-selected professional groups have erected.
They would reason that the high barriers to entry were critical for things like quality assurance or public safety.
And maybe some good-hearted people meant that, too. But by restricting the supply of professionals able to meet demand, they were also raising their own wages. Which was a nice little bonus, don’t you think?
In some cases the barriers to entry were technological. Journalists, as an example, were protected from full competition because of the high costs associated with production and dissemination of the written word. Newspapers and magazines were the only career path, that career path demanded certain education, had only a few job openings and restricted both who became a journalist and what journalistic voices were heard.
Then the internet came along.
And with the hard costs to produce and disseminate written, journalistic-style content at zero the competition was officially on.
It has been tough on journalists and other experts who were situated behind technological barriers to entry because not only do they have more competition, but the competitors are turning out to be very good.
“This is the age of the amafessional, when amateurs are rivaling professionals in opportunity, talent and the ability to produce quality work.”
Quality is the key.
In the open marketplace, people are drawn to quality. That is not to deny that there is a lot of drivel, bile and bad writing on the internet (or to deny that there is a lot of drivel, bile and bad writing in newspapers and magazines), but it is to say that people are turning to amafessional sources because those sources provide quality information in an engaging and different style and environment that is unavailable in other places. It may be more informal that a newspaper. There may not be a proofing department to check spelling and grammar. The writers may not have even gone to J-School (gasp!).
But they are putting out a quality product that stands with, and in many cases surpasses, the ‘official’ product.
It’s not just journalists who are being challenged. Across professions, technology is opening the doors to new competition. Oh, and advertising is one of those professions that is being challenged.
“Similarly, advertising faces some of the same pressures from the amafessionals, as low-cost programs give consumers an increasing ability to turn out professional-looking material at costs a fraction of what they were. Vice President Al Gore, in his 2000 presidential race, was perhaps the first to send video cameras to people to make their own ads on his behalf. Not much was usable then, but that is changing, as companies hold broader contests for content.”
And it’s not just the contests for content – a comment that, funny enough, shows the weakness of journalists in that they lack practical expertise in the field and make comments of the sort that no advertising professional would have made since 2006 for reasons obvious to said advertising professionals – but rather the fact that through online videos like the ones Chiat/Day turned into ads for Apple or Facebook fan pages or movies that race car driver Ken Block did for DC Shoes and Subaru, people are creating great branding work.
It helps, of course, that they are not constrained by client nor legal department nor brief nor agency politics.
But consumer created work does not replace ad agencies any more than bloggers replace investigative journalists. Because brands must be stewarded, must be led and must do more than whiz-bang awesome stunts and visuals.
And to be stewarded means two things. It means to set the brand tone that consumers can identify with and key off of to create their work and it means to do the hard work of selling.
The revolutionary change to advertising that the consumer generated branding is going to force is not for advertisers to go bigger and cooler, but rather for advertisers to sell. Consumers are already telling other potential consumers why this particular brand could be for them. But they are not detailing out why the specific brand product is right for them right now, where to go get one, or incentives to buy this instant.
You heard it here first.