New York TimesLG Mobile Beat in NYT

Do You Want to Be a Music Critic This Summer?

By STUART ELLIOTT
Published: June 8, 2007

The old saying “Everyone’s a critic” has taken on added meaning in the age of blogging. Millions of people are now able to share their opinions with the public, a privilege formerly limited to professionals with mainstream bully pulpits.

A leading cellphone maker is taking advantage of the rising popularity of blogs and other forms of consumer-generated content — as well as the increasing interest in mobile marketing — by offering music fans ages 18 and up a chance to play critic for the summer. To help peddle a new camera phone, LG MobileComm USA is joining with the music publication Billboard for a promotion that will send up to 30 contestants to concerts around the country.

The promotion, called the Mobile Beat contest, is being handled by two agencies in New York that are owned by the WPP Group: Brand Buzz, part of the Young & Rubicam Brands division, and the MECi unit of Mediaedge:cia, part of the GroupM division.

The 30 or so youthful critics will file reviews and photos on deadline from concert sites, from late June through mid-September. Their commentary will be posted on personalized blogs, housed on the Billboard Web site (billboard.com).

In true democratic Web fashion, the blogosphere will select the contest’s three finalists as well as the ultimate winner, all chosen based on the number of hits to the blogs.

For younger consumers, “mobile is leapfrogging the PC,” said Mark Greatrex, senior vice president for marketing communications and insights at the Coca-Cola Company. He and other Coke executives introduced on Wednesday an elaborate promotion for the Sprite line of soft drinks that represents the company’s most aggressive push into mobile marketing.

The mobile-only promotion is centered on a social network, Sprite Yard, patterned after Facebook, Friendster and MySpace. The network, accessible by cellphones and other portable digital devices rather than through the Internet, will offer features like profiles, photo sharing, mobile messaging, games and video clips.

Mobile marketing is at a nascent stage in the United States, as evidenced by spending last year of just $150 million, according to the Association of National Advertisers. But that figure is expected to grow to almost $1.3 billion by 2009, the association forecasts, as more advertisers change their media choices to reflect the fast-moving shifts in consumer behavior.

“The 15-to-24-year-old can’t imagine a world without technology,” said Jon Maron, senior director for marketing at LG Electronics MobileComm USA in San Diego, a division of LG Electronics, “so we have to think about our marketing programs in very different terms.”

“The mobile phone is an extension of everything they do,” Mr. Maron said of the young members of the connected generation, “and blogging is becoming as much of a news source for them as the news itself.”

To address the issue of the trustworthiness and veracity of blog contents, LG is joining forces for the promotion with Billboard, described by Mr. Maron as “a leader in music information.” LG already advertises in the print and online editions of Billboard, part of the Nielsen Business Media unit of the Nielsen Company.

Minutes after the details of the contest were posted on billboard.com on May 18, the entries began coming in, said Scott McKenzie, group editorial director at Billboard in New York.

“The hardest part is to make sure it’s not the staff using fake names,” he added, laughing.

Entries in the contest, in the form of photographs and 100-word essays, are being accepted at the Web site through next Friday. More than 5,000 computer users have looked at the information about the contest, and there were 60 entries submitted as of yesterday.

(That may not seem like many, but have you asked an 18-year-old lately to write an essay?)

The 30 or so contestants who will be chosen by Billboard and LG to take part in the concert blogs are to be drawn from different parts of the country, Mr. McKenzie said, and from fans of diverse musical genres — even classical, if entrants are so inclined.

Each participant will receive a new LG enV camera cellphone, a concert itinerary and of course that mainstay of concert-going, a T-shirt.

“Giving the phones to the correspondents/journalists/bloggers does a great job of putting the product in the users’ hands,” said Hillary Evans, creative director for digital at Brand Buzz, and “organically integrates the product in a way that makes sense” rather than merely “slapping the logo on” a promotion that could be sponsored by any brand.

The winner of the contest, to be chosen in October, will get a free trip for two to a Billboard Music Award show. The two runners-up will receive LG mobile handsets.

LG is not the only marketer handing out samples of its newest products and sharing the results. A campaign by McCann Erickson Worldwide and MRM Worldwide, part of the McCann Worldgroup division of the Interpublic Group of Companies, is centered on giving 200 Nikon D40 digital cameras to residents of Georgetown, S.C., then presenting their photographs in commercials and on a Web site (stunningnikon.com/picturetown).

One reason the contest idea appealed to LG is that it takes advantage of the community aspects of mobile communications, Ms. Evans said. Contestants “will promote it among their friends,” which adds a “viral, word-of-mouth component” to the effort, she said.

Another goal of the promotion is to elevate the LG brand image, which is now predominantly focused on reliability, said Chanasith Ruanglek, who is Ms. Evans’s counterpart at MECi.

“A big motivator is to make LG phones a leadership brand, a brand that can command a premium price,” said Ms. Ruanglek, a media supervisor. “We want people to put the LG phone on the table and be proud of it.”

Those with long memories may recall how agencies once strove to create table-worthy imagery for cigarettes, so that when a smoker took out a pack from a pocket or purse the brand would be perceived as a badge of his or her personality.

Even so, it does not seem the same to proclaim, “I’d walk a mile for a cellphone,” or “Come to Mobile Country.”

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