Analysis & Opinion

Mirror marketing

December 2, 2009 Mullen

Shakespeare wrote that the purpose of art is to “hold the mirror up to nature.” In the Bard’s plays we see on stage a reflection of ourselves, and that’s how he created timeless art. I’ve been struggling to find the right metaphor to explain the art of social media marketing to clients, colleagues, even my parents, and I think I’ve found it in The Mirror.

Marketers have been trying to depict consumers engaging with products since the first spear salesman scrawled images of the hunt in charcoal on a cave wall. Modern marketers rely on images of happy, healthy people running on the beach, or perhaps relaxing in side-by-side bathtubs. The goal is to hold the mirror up to us, the consumers, who will see ourselves in the images, and then (presumably) buy what’s most reflective of us.

Social media takes this traditional mirror marketing in powerful new directions, and we are just scraping the surface of its potential. Now, thanks to the online bits and bytes we trail wherever we go, it’s possible to aggregate word-of-mouth social chatter and turn it back on consumers so they see themselves reflected out from the brands they consume.

Consider what Sprint is doing with its Now Network that purports to show in real time what’s going on in the world, from the number of seconds until Doughnut Day to how many babies are being born from the moment you’ve clicked on the site. It’s hard not to feel that Sprint is dominating with a real-time, always-on positioning.

Audi also effectively took the social buzz about its e-Tron electric vehicle to the masses by aggregating all of the blog posts, tweets, YouTube videos and Flickr images in one place where it could be seen. Click on The Conversation to see its social footprint dynamically come to life.

For companies looking to selectively post tweets about specific on-brand topics, TweetRiver enables a real time customer testimonial tweet stream. So what happens when consumers see their thoughts and feelings about brands reflected back at them as marketing? Certainly they feel they are part of a like-minded community.

But visualizing what the masses think is only the beginning of mirror marketing. Facebook Connect puts your own profile photos and sometimes videos right into a digital scenario so you can literally see yourself reflected back at you. This twisted funhouse mirror has been well executed to promote a game in The Prototype Experience.

But at heart I think that social media marketing is really akin to a magic mirror, one that not only reflects you back to yourself, but also interacts with you, shares your dreams and aspirations. A Facebook fan page is probably the truest expression that marketers have now of a magic mirror. So I guess we shouldn’t be surprised that real world magic mirrors are emerging and revolutionizing the digital out of home experience with augmented reality where you can try on clothes in stores virtually.

Watching U2 perform on their 360 tour, where the stage was capped by a massive mirror disco ball spinning around to shine the light on adoring fans, it was clear that we’re all hoping to have our moment in the spotlight, to see ourselves as something better than we are today. And when our modern bard, Bono, had several fans join him onstage wearing masks with the face of Aung San Suu Kyi, he made them a mirror to multiply her voice.

One thing is for sure: we’ve come a long way as an industry from observing consumers via one-way-mirror focus groups, to traveling through the digital looking glass. I call this Mirror Marketing. As Alice would say in Wonderland, it’s only going to get curiouser and curiouser.