Click on the banner to visit our new and improved consumer trends blog!

Monday, February 4, 2008


A macro-trend we call “Consumer Control” refers to the fact that, in many industries, consumers are increasingly taking control over the purchase experience. (Examples include: air travel, music, investments, and even healthcare.) A micro-trend within this shift is consumer-generated content. (Examples: blogging, social networking, and YouTube.)

Recognizing that it could yield some word-of-mouth advertising on a global scale, some companies have attempted to harness the power of consumer-generated content to create “viral” marketing campaigns. Some, however, have discovered that this powerful weapon can easily backfire. (For example, visit and search their archives for “Tahoe commercial.” Warning: Some of the entries can be considered offensive and insensitive.)

Last week, the New York Times reported on yet another attempt at manipulating consumer-generated content that may have snowballed out of control. The story explained that Subway restaurants was suing Quizno’s for slander, even though the ads in question were produced not by Quizno’s, but consumers. The short version of the story: Quizno’s sponsored a contest, challenging consumers to build commercials explaining why they thought Quizno’s was better than Subway. The winning commercial entry—among other things—would be run in an actual television commercial. Subway’s suit contends that many of the entries, seen online and on television, were factually inaccurate… and that Quizno’s is culpable. (To read the full story, click here. A no-cost subscription may be required.)

Implications: The Internet offers a host of marketing opportunities, not the least of which is gaining “worldwide word of mouth,” which travels at near-instantaneous speeds. But proceed with caution, and be careful what you wish for. As the name implies, consumer-generated content means that the company must relinquish control of the message to consumers.

Mike Anderson

Making amends

Usually, the trend community is inclined to focus on major shifts which will have long-term implications. Sometimes, though, smaller transitions are worthy of consideration, because they are so predictable and actionable. An example: The Re-United States.

Almost every trend is a simple matter of cause and effect, and this one is no different. Right now, candidates are spending millions of dollars point out how they are different from the others in the race for President. Even members of the same family can disagree on who is best suited to lead the free world.

Regardless of your party preference or candidate of choice, we can all agree on this: Things can get a little nasty. And this generally hostile exchange will only escalate between now and Election Day. (A wise man once told me that, “Democracy is not perfect, it is only the best political system on the planet.”)

As tense as things will be over the next several months, a period of reconciliation is just as predictable. Soon after the voting is over, political anxiety begins to fade. The “losing party” realizes that it must try to get along with the new Commander In Chief. The constituency—we the people—begin to realize it has been suffering from election fatigue. And conversations begin to refocus on the issues which unite us, rather than those which divide us.

Implications: The post-election period is usually a time of hope, reconciliation and increasing unity. It is the perfect time for products supporting those values to hold a very high profile. Themes that might resonate with consumers might include “American made,” or simply that Norman Rockwell-ian image of “a traditional American family, gathered around the table for a meal at home.” This sense of unity is further reinforced by the holidays which commence at Veterans Day in early November, through New Years and even up to the inauguration.

Mike Anderson