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  • Writer's pictureWim Vermeulen

Brands are open source

Updated: Mar 7, 2018

"Open Source refers to something people can modify and share because its design is publicly accessible" is the definition of open source according to According to this definition, brands are definitely open source. The perception of a brand is modified and shared by people. As brand owners we can write all the powerpoint presentations we want, we know we are only setting the tone. It is ultimately the consumer who shapes and defines the brand perception, based on his or her experience with the product, feedback from other consumers, reviews on social media or specialised websites and advertising. In today's digital world, setting the tone is becoming more important than ever.

What smart marketers do.

Smart marketers work with that insight when they think about their next advertising campaign. They know that everything they do with their brand can and will be discussed on social media. Sometimes they can barely hear it, sometimes it's really loud. It sounds very risky, but smart marketeers are looking for loud feedback. They want the consumer to tapforward their campaigns. Massively. But they also want to set the tone of the Tapforwarding.

Example: Alexa lost her voice

Amazon has some smart marketers working for it. And, in they eyes of a more traditional marketer, they are not afraid to take risks. You can also call it carefully orchestrating a strong Tapforwarding effect.

When Amazon launched its first Echo commercial, it was spoofed and parodied numerous times. People made alternative versions with other voices, funny soundbites from movies and famous people. Also tv shows jumped on it. Below is a hilarious example made by SNL. When that happens you know, as a marketer, you are on to something.

It was no surprise then, when we heard that Amazon would air a commercial on the Super Bowl, it would be conceived as very spoofable one.

And Amazon won the Super Bowl. The commercial came in first on the USA Today's annual Super Bowl Ad Meter. It also won big online, resulting in + 60 mio views on YouTube. That is a fine example of Tapforward advertising.


Of course the Tapforward effect was carefully orchestrated. Amazon not only wanted spoofs, they also wanted to set the tone of the spoofs. Otherwise said, if you want people to create funny spoofs, make sure your ads are very funny to begin with. Amazon aired short teasers before the Super Bowl such as this one with Cardi B or the second with Jeff Bezos himself.

What happened with the first Echo commercial also happened with this Super Bowl ad. People tapped the ad forward by making it their own. Here is a rather brilliant example.

The big Pay-off came last week

Smart marketers want to go for the TapForward effect. They understand that this is how advertising works in our digital world. They know that people will discuss everything they air or put online. Smart marketers not only want the discussion to become loud, they also want to set the tone of the discussion. All the spoofs of the Alexa commercial are funny to hilarious. That is because Amazon set the tone for it.

But what happened last week? Alexa actually did lose her voice. Alexa actually stopped working. Several Amazon Echo customers took to social media on Friday, March 2, to report that the popular voice assistant wasn't working properly. The problem appeared to be widespread in the US. People could still get answers to their questions via the Alexa app, but not using their voice.

Of course people opened Twitter to complain about it. Others appreciated the humor of it and talked about it with a lot of wit. That is kind of special, isn't. After all, we are talking about a software product that stopped working. Kudos to the marketers of the Echo to make this happen.

Brands are, just as software, open source. It's the marketer that codes the basics to then leave it to the community to fine-tune, adapt or change it. If you are planning your next communication plan, don't focus only on the short term sales effect. Also think about the tone of voice you want to set. Because every brand gets discussed on social media and sometimes the discussion becomes very loud. When that happens to your brand, you will be very pleased you thought about the tone of voice. And please don't think you can opt not to do that. It is how successful advertising works today.

If you want to know more on how brands are open source, how you create the TapForward effect and how you set the tone of it, order my new book 'Marketing voor de Mad Men van Morgen' on this site or on The Dutch version is available now, the English version will be released before the summer.

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