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You are here: Home » The Marketing Diary » The Different Marketing Approach » Character Blogs as a Branding Vehicle: An Essay On the Use of Character Blogs to Extend the Brand

April 18, 2005

Character Blogs as a Branding Vehicle: An Essay On the Use of Character Blogs to Extend the Brand

Character blogs are starting to generate interesting feedback within the blogosphere, getting people on either the positive or the negative side of the fence.

Steve Rubel is one of the stronger voices against character blogs:

"I have been holding back on this for awhile, but it's now time for me to unload. I'm sorry, but I believe character blogs are a complete waste."

"Character blogs are a waste of time because a character is not and never will be human - unless it's Pinocchio."

Don't the companies running character blogs understand the blogosphere?

Probably not, and in some cases they're better off not understanding. The blogsphere as it is understood today is "a conceptual product" of the people that started it, the early blogging adopters.

But the blogging landscape is changing quickly, as blogs reach out to more and more people every day. The fundamental rules of the game, which have been formed since the early days of blogging, no longer need to apply.

My reasoning behind this is that blogs are no longer intended strictly to the "small" cirle of people who grew up with blogs and created the blogosphere. They are now main-stream and most of their readers don't really know or care about the fact that they're reading a blog.

To them a blog is just another site with a somewhat different content structure than the norm, and with a different voice than your standard corporate speak.

This "new" bread of blog readers don't really care about "the rules", especially those readers that just want to be entertained. And I'm quite certain that the readers of character blogs (especially younger audiences) are exactly after that: entertainment.

For them, it's not about transparentcy. It's not about a human voice. It's not about having a more personal relation to the company and what's going on behind the scenes.

It's about entertainment in its purest form and finding improved ways of relating to the brand and the characters that embody it.

Does a ten year old care about the person or the company behind Mickey Mouse? Does he want to read about how the character was developed, what's going on behind the scenes and so on?

In most cases, no. He just wants to hear more from that character, even make him part of his daily routine, "watching" how he lives out his life.

What the "nay sayers" against character blogs just don't seem to get is that there's a whole world of people out there not interested in "transparent" content about the company, the product or the brand. They're interested in the brand itself and what that brand stands for.

They don't care about the people behind the brand, but only about the brand itself. If this weren't the case, what would need brands for anyway?

Blogging is changing and it's becoming something that many people that started it all don't like. But it's the same with practically every channel development. Eventually, it turns out in to something no one expected it would.

There's place for both "transparent" blogs and for "character" blogs, with each serving a different purpose. Character blogs are pure entertainment, while "transparent" blogs serve as a communicational channel between the company and its many audiences.

This is only theory for now of course, but good character blogs should be able to establish a bridge between the brand (character) and its brand consumers.

Character blogs should facilitate interaction with the brand itself, and what it stands for. Brands are people, but they're really much more than that; a combination of values, people, processes, expectations and so on.

Now, many brands "employ" many different characters, such as Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader from Star Wars. Each of these characters has a different personality and a different set of core values.

Imagine the opportunity here, if companies started developing individual blogs surrounding these characters, further expanding their reach. Each blog would be a character blog, written in the voice and with the personality of its character, becoming a platform for new stories and conversations based on that very character.

Just imagine a Darth Vader blog, where Vader "talks" about his life, his feelings, his views and so on, set in the Star Wars experience. This would be a unique opportunity for the consumers to deeply explore the character and get to know it in completely new ways, but remaining faitful to the "orinigal".

Another approach would be to take Vader out of the Star Wars universe and apply his character to the present time and our universe, commenting on daily world events through his personality.

The possibilities are quite overwhelming and there's no "one size fits all".

Let's take a look at the "Buffyverse", the universe created behind the hit TV show (now deceased) Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

The producers could in fact create multiple blogs to serve different people with different interests.

a] Character blogs, "written" by the actual characters in first person, as sort of diaries expanding on their feelings and thoughts on what's going on in the show, as the show is broadcasted.

We could have a "Buffy blog", where buffy shares her innermost feelings about what went down in the actual show, for instance telling us how she felt in-depth after Spike's attempted rape, or a "The First blog", where The First Evil tells us of its plans and its feelings about comfronting Buffy.

Character blogs would be an ideal channel for the producers to expand the show and its various characters, make them feel more alive.

Would these blogs have such an affect if they were signed by real people? Probably now, as "real people" would make character blogs less authentic and real.

This just goes to show that there are more sides of the "authentic" coin.

b] However, for those readers that want to hear from the actual people behind the story, the plot writers and Whedon himself could write about where the character is going after each show, what lessons he learned and how the character "feels".

c] And for yet another audience, the tech experts behind the show could explain how they produced certain effects, what challenges they encountered and so on ...

d] And then we could have the "corporate" blog, where Whedon would talk about his dealings with the TV network and what it takes to procude such a show, and so on.

Something to satisfy every taste ...

Comments

I understand where Steve is coming from but would agree with you and think of such character blogs as an art form that happens to use blogging as its medium. If done well, it could be, as you say, "entertainment."

Take a look at what P&G; is trying out with their Sparkle Body Spray blog (www.sparklebodyspray.com). The blog may not resonate with me but I'm not their audience either. It's up to the wider audience they're trying to reach to judge the blog's success in building a community around the brand.

Posted by: Ian Kennedy at April 19, 2005 8:02 AM

Very, very interesting idea. Very.

Wouldn't surprise me at all if Disney or another like-minded corporation started this practice. Wouldn't surprise me if this practice was already taking place. If it is, it's my contention you will find a serious lack of quality in the work. Kind of like buying a comic book based on your favorite superhero only to find watered down dialogue, weak developments, and meh-type visuals (yet this is rarely the case regarding Joss Whedon's work in comics). Because this type of blogging could realistically take place, young consumers as you mentioned would not recognize the quality of these products has probably been compromised.

Buffy is probably not a good example, however. Joss Whedon would probably not endorse this type of character development, except perhaps on a very small scale. Knowing his devotion to "proper" character development, it's just really hard for me to make use of your example, but I can see how other writers/producers might try this idea. The ideas you mentioned have already been widely developed and explored via licensed fiction and related products, and consumers themselves, in the form of fanfiction, forums, etc. Furthermore, Whedon assumes his consumers have a brain. He shows us what the characters experience. He doesn't tell us (standard industry practice by genius writers). He doesn't have to. He knew, for example, after viewers saw the attempted rape and the Scoobies' encounters with the First that we'd be able to figure out for ourselves what was going on in their heads. We saw for ourselves how everyone "dealt." In fact, Whedon prefers his viewers draw their own conclusions, as he's publicly stated many times.

As a novice writer, I understand his POV. Completely. Whedon is the best example of an artist who will not let major corporations alter his visions, and fans LOVE him for that. Writers and creators would first have to give up creative control of their products in order to allow this type of blogging to take place.

It could be an interesting venue for a writer or creator who is not very well-known. In that way, consumers could learn a great deal about the artists and the products the creators want to promote. They could have their periodic "fix" just by logging in on a regular basis. This type of blog would be incredibly cheap to produce and maintain, pleasing both consumers and creators, much like the way not-so-well-known musicians offer a few free songs for download on their official websites. Makes everybody happy!

I'm glad you used Joss Whedon in your example, actually. Through my devotion to the study of his work, I've learned that I'm not just a fan who appreciates his art. I'm also a consumer of his products. According to the bottom line in his biz, money matters before all else; no ifs, ands or buts. Therefore, I must take certain considerations into account when consuming his product, such as: Who wrote it? Who sponsors it? Who else gains financially? and so on. So this type of blog would have to be critically viewed as any other type of product or promotion (obviously). As far as young consumers are concerned, this is the same type of product parents should screen but probably won't. This would be one of those new products or mediums most parents don't know exist; they are more likely to learn about this product through own experience or their children, if at all.

The likely result of character blogs would mirror the same development products already experience in other promotional venues. The uncompromising artist such as Whedon would likely only create such a blog with strict control. Artists who have licensed their products and have no say in the process would likely shrivel and weep as the liberties taken with their characters become further and further removed from their creative visions. Unfortunately, these practices would be likely unknown by the general fanbase. If character blogs continue to develop, it will be up to the uber-fans to decide if the blogs are worthy creations. Trust me, the rabid fans will let you know.

Posted by: April at April 28, 2005 3:53 PM

Darth Vader has a blog at
http://darthside.blogspot.com/

Posted by: KEV at April 29, 2005 1:39 AM

I'd like to thank everyone for your wonderful comments and invite you to the new article, where the debate continues:

http://www.marketingstudies.net/blogs/diary/archive/000362.html

All the best,

Rok

Posted by: Rok Hrastnik at April 29, 2005 5:22 PM
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