Disruption and Social Media Campaign Planning

A packed out room was the audience to the first Techmap Monday in London, with a keynote presentation by Mike Williams from Isobar.

One of the most interesting things that came out of the talk was the concept of Disruption. What Mike was suggesting was that the really successful campaigns build on the ideas of DNA (our physiological ability to perceive phenomena), schema (our expectations of the world), and then attempt to disrupt these expectations to stand out.

As a concept it seems to have grated with a few of the attendees, although I’m not entirely certain they were on the same wave length as Mike. Disruption as a stand alone word or concept is admittedly not something you’d want to do to an audience, it has aggressive and dubious connotation. When put into the context of schema, however, it holds a whole new meaning, and is indeed something that any marketing campaign should aim to do.

One of Mike’s key examples was a campaign he was involved with for Nokia. The campaign essentially involved rigging up a huge signpost in London and handing the control over to the passing public. People were able to text things to the signpost and get temporary control over where it pointed and what it read.

Disruption on a big scale. Signposts are things that are concrete and unchangeable. No one really knows how they are made, who makes them, who decides what goes on them and how many get put up. However, the potential to suddenly take control over the linguistic landscape, and not on just a normal sign but on a HUGE SIGN. This gave people control over a huge temporary landmark. It temporarily removed power from the controlling bourgeoisie and gave it to the people.

Aside from sounding revolutionary, and perhaps guilty of a tinge of hyperbole, it is a true example of how disruption works. The huge sign disrupted the idea of a normal sign, the control over its contents disrupted the idea that we have nothing to do with these things.

The Old Spice Guy, for example, disrupted the relationship between the YouTube format and time. Instead of every video being old and heavily edited, it was as live as it could be, it was candid, it was really interactive.

It would be imprudent to say that this is the holy grail of marketing – disruption tactics would not work for every campaign, and if they were used uniformly across the industry they would inevitably be less effective, but it is fair to say that a large proportion of the ‘viral’ content that comes and goes does violate these ‘norms’ that we hold about the world.

With social media marketing and campaigns there are undoubtedly elements that cannot be violated, but even in this domain (which is arguably a removed form the digital marketing spectrum regardless if whether it is used in the marketing mix or not) the cases which are earmarked as very effective or most creative are probably utilising disruption at some level to make the message salient to the target audience.

An excellent presentation by Seth Godin on TED has this underlying message also. It’s about standing out – no one notices a cow, because a cow is mundane and banal. A purple cow, though?

It is important sometimes to step back and look at why things work, and to try to evaluate the processes involved in developing the concept for a campaign, right through to its completion and evaluation. It makes it easier to focus the essential creative energy needed for successful social media campaign design, and it gives us better insight at an earlier stage into whether an idea will work or not. It’s not just about

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