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MI6 Keynote: DDB's Swystun On Marketing To The Swarm

In his MI6 Conference marketing keynote, Jeff Swystun, director of global communication at ad-firm DDB gave games execs a look at how his company views the future of marketing, saying marketers need to think in terms of leaderless "swarms" and inspiring c

Christian Nutt, Contributor

April 9, 2008

4 Min Read

At 2008's MI6 Game Marketing conference in San Francisco, this year's Marketing Keynote was delivered by Jeff Swystun, DDB WW's director of gobal communication, replacing originally scheduled company CEO Chuck Brymer. Using his own company's successful campaigns to illustrate his points -- DDB's long history of ads include Budweiser's 'Whassup' ads and Lyndon Johnson's 'Daisy' campaign -- he took the audience on a tour through what he considers to be essential to the future of marketing. Opening up, Swystun said, "If there's one theme that joins us all here, we're looking to engage people and create a community... I want to talk about how the idea of motivating people is driven by the influence you create among these communities." Though prior audiences for marketing were often likened to herds, he believes that current audiences, connected through online services like Facebook, can be analogized to swarms -- they lack a leader, and react intelligently and swiftly. "You cannot lead a swarm," according to Swystun. "In the past we've seen big eat the small. In the new knowledge-based digital economy, the fast eats the slow -- so fast is the new big." One major shift in swarms versus herds is that there is "reference, not deference." Instead of listening to a handed down message, "we trust those close to us." He showed graphs illustrating two recent studies that show that, globally, friends and family are the most important influencers on decision-making -- and that these have increased in recent years. But how do you influence these people, and get your message heard? "We'd like to get these highly engaged swarms saying good things about our product. The question is how you can do this. The answer is influence," offered Swystun. "It's about whether communities are flocking to your brand or running away from it -- it has a lot to do with how people see it." He characterized it as a "predator vs. peer" relationship -- with Wal-Mart being an example of a company the swarm views as a predator, with a negative YouTube parody ad highlighting its sweatshop labor as an example of the reaction to the brand online. "The swarm is a modern day Big Brother," he suggested, implying that the power lies in the hands of watchful online communities, not multi-million dollar companies. Conviction, Collaboration, And Creativity Swystun said that "conviction, collaboration, and creativity" are the three key elements of marketing that will engage the swarm. "Behind every great brand is a great idea." Examples of conviction, according to Swystun, are Harley-Davidson; it's "much more than a motorcycle, it's a belief system. Another example is Apple... Apple's influence with its swarm gives it a degree of permission to fail." Referring to the fact that these companies are not the largest supplier in their category, Swystun argued that, "what isn't important is their size... but each believe something." While in the past companies did R&D in a vacuum and released products that would be marketed based on extant features, Swystun argues that, "the human swarms want to participate in how products are designed." He offered as an example a German campaign DDB did for Nike, involving a desktop widget called Miles which tracks your running schedule, and intelligently suggests events you might be interested in, among other features. Creativity in marketing is the third key -- as an example he showed a DDB ad for a small Dutch insurance company called Centraal Beheer. Though unknown as a company outside of The Netherlands, the ads have been viewed nearly a million times online, internationally, due to their humorous content. Using creativity and tying a McDonalds website to the Beijing Olympics, "the result was a swarm [eating] Big Macs at a rate never seen before in a country foreign to this food." In Conclusion "We need to make a major change in the way we look at our consumer audiences... in the past marketing looked at the individual, now we need to look at communities," Swystun closed with. To that end, DDB has created and hired a new position, the chief community officer. This person is responsible for understanding swarm behavior online and offline. DDB plans to add more CCOs in the near future.

About the Author(s)

Christian Nutt


Christian Nutt is the former Blog Director of Gamasutra. Prior to joining the Gamasutra team in 2007, he contributed to numerous video game publications such as GamesRadar, Electronic Gaming Monthly, The Official Xbox Magazine, GameSpy and more.

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