Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Second life relationships (weird stuff...) and the advertising connection

Below is a "learning journal that I had to do for one of my Marketing subjects this semester. i was inspired by a rather disturbing/enlightening documentary I had seen about Second life.

Expectation management in Advertising and why it is important.
In this my second learning journal entry I will be looking at advertising, why marketers use them and the pitfalls of bad advertising.

1. The “second-life”/expectation management connection
Last night I watched a documentary about the online world “second life” a site where users can create online characters and immerse themselves in vast virtual worlds and meet other users from across the world. More specifically the documentary dealt with the issue of men and women who had formed relationships in the virtual world and were looking to meet up in person, with a view to transferring this successful relationship into the real world. “Second life” allows users to create a totally customisable character which expresses who they are and exactly how they would like to be perceived and viewed, needless to say there are few fat, balding or indeed aged characters created in this virtual world. The characters that exist in this world are really graphical expressions of the “ideal self” a concept that we covered in buyer and consumer behaviour during the last year. Unsurprisingly most of these ideal selves take the form of Pamela Anderson-esque women and Arnold Schwartzeneggar-esque male characters, which tend to be somewhat wide of the mark in terms of accuracy.

Advertising gives marketers the opportunity to engage in a similar activity, to present their brand/product to the masses and target audience in the exact way that they want it to be seen, as with “Second life” it gives them the opportunity to express the “ideal self” but this time for a product/service rather than a person. For many consumers the first awareness they will have of your brand will be created by advertising, and it is this advertising that will set their expectation levels.

In the latter half of the “Second life” documentary we saw the couples meeting up in the real world for the first time, and for the most part the sense of disappointment on both sides was quite noticeable. People who had been muscular heroes in the online world turned out to be overweight balding scruffs, and others who had been supermodels online turned out to be nothing more than your average middle-aged woman. In my opinion the disappointment was caused by two main factors. Firstly expectations had been set too high, and secondly the gap between the traits of the individual’s online and real personalities was too great too ignore.
This problem is certainly not one confined to the realm of “Second life” and is a pitfall that advertisers must avoid at all costs. One of the students in class last week said that he thought that advertising gave companies a chance to “differentiate from competitors”, I believe that this view is somewhat short sighted and advertising should not be used in a way that uses differentiation gimmicks to entice customers unless your offering is actually superior or different in a real sense. People, although easily led, are not stupid, and will be quick to notice the differences between the ideal view of the product/service conjured up by advertisers, and the reality of the offering’s characteristics.

Some companies may aim to only ever sell you one product and therefore deception through advertising is an effective way of making the sale, however you would be hard pressed to find any successful brands that rely on this tactic. The gap between the ideal view of the product put forward by the advertiser, and the customer’s actual perception is of huge importance for brands that require repeat custom in order to survive. For these companies failure to effectively manage a customer’s expectations may result in a permanent loss of business, so it is therefore in the brand’s interest that their advertising should represent their product in a more conservative light.

2. The social “Post-Purchase” evaluation effect.
Marketers must also consider that once a customer has consumed the offering in question they will engage in what is referred to as the “post purchase evaluation”. It is now that a customer will determine whether they are satisfied with the product/service based on their consumption experience and expectations they brought to the table prior to purchase. Although some of the text books seem to imply that this post purchase evaluation is a personal activity, it is often one that is carried out in, or communicated to, peer groups. If customer is dissatisfied with his/her experience of your product you can rest assured that the individual will tell their friends, family and anyone who is willing to listen.

3. Conclusion
My opinion on the matter in this moment and time is that advertising is a powerful vehicle by which to communicate your message to your target audience, however this communication also sets expectation levels in your audiences mind about what your offering will be like. Advertising is a way to communicate your difference and is not in and of itself a way to “differentiate from competitors”. It is up to the marketer to ensure that any message sent about the brand is sufficiently honest and realistic, and that expectations be met if a customer consumes your offering, if not reputation damage and loss of revenue will follow.

1 comment:

jedimasterbooboo said...

Second Life stuff creeps me out, but you know serious marketers are all over that, taking notes.