The little cluetrain that could

Well, I suppose it’s a start. The NY Times today extols the wisdom of consumer-goods advertisers letting their consumers have a role in campaigns and products:

Crest, a division of Procter & Gamble, is asking people to go to the Web to vote for their favorite from a short list of contenders: lemon ice, sweet berry punch or tropica exotica. Samples of the flavors are attached to some Crest products.

Marketing executives say the campaign reflects an increasing interest by companies in involving consumers in their advertising. The trend is another way to break from traditional advertising that viewers increasingly can tune out with TiVo and other digital video recorders. Marketers say the Internet has also made interactive campaigns easier to conduct.

Note that it says they want to involve consumers in their advertising.

I quote Doc Searls in every PowerPoint BlogBoy dance I give [available for hire -advt]:

“Consumer is an industrial-age word, a broadcast-age word. It implies that we are all tied to our chairs, head back, eating ‘content’ and crapping cash.’ “

It’s not about consumers — us — getting involved in the company’s — their — advertising. It’s about companies realizing that they are us and we are them:

I am he as you are he as you are me and we are all together….
I am the walrus, goo goo g’joob.

It’s about companies realizing that we who buy and use these products are in a better position to both market and invent them.

So it’s nice that P&G is letting us vote on a limited set of toothpaste flavors. Really, it is. I’m not being sarcastic, well, not too sarcastic. I guess I feel empowered picking lemon ice (my choice). It is a step in the right direction. But only a step. It’s not a zippy ride on the Cluetrain.

If P&G really had balls, they would have the people create the flavors they want and make the executive decision about which ones to make and then create the marketing campaign about them. If P&G really wanted to succeed, it would give up control to the people they used to call their consumers.

More like this:

Similarly, Staples Inc. is starting its Staples Invention Quest vote Aug. 10. Staples accepted product ideas from customers this spring and said it would award a $25,000 grand prize in September and nine semifinalist prizes of $5,000 – along with possible production deals – for the best inventions, chosen by Staples judges and online voters.

Since the Crest voting began May 2, about 500,000 votes have been cast, said Tonia Elrod, a Crest spokeswoman. Staples, based in Framingham, Mass., received about 12,000 invention proposals this year, up from about 8,300 last year, said Jevin S. Eagle, the senior vice president of Staples Brands.

Another step in the right direction. But if Staples had balls, it would open a forum, wide open, asking office workers the world around to say what products they want and how the products they sell need improvement. Go here and see why you should build a keyboard impervious to crumbs. Build it. Then take a picture of the happy snarfer typing away (a blogger, I have no doubt) as your marketing campaign. He’s not asking for a cut of the profits but it would be the neighborly thing to do.

You have to give up control — really give up control and mean it — to win today.

(And you’ve just witnessed me starting to write that damned book.)