I work AROUND advertising, but not IN it. It's something I think about a lot and here are some thoughts I've had recently.
If you've never been to a March Madness game, it's a different sort of beast. In the early rounds there are a few fans from each team, then a lot of interested locals there to watch some "sports history". Also, there are a lot more timeouts (for commercial breaks and score updates).
During the long breaks, each teams cheerleaders take the floor for about 3 minutes. They hoot and jump up and down and do lifts and backflips, and no one listens. No one, except the other cheerleaders. After watching a few sessions it was more and more clear that the only one watching the cheerleaders were the other cheerleaders, and that is mostly who they were trying to impress, what with the backflips, back-handsprings and human towers. (you know "cheersport")
Now, I am no historian, but I can imagine how the first cheerleaders got their start. The fans were watching sports and there was a lot of yelling going on, some in support of the team, some against the other team, and a few things about the ref's mother. Someone at the school had a bright idea. What if we could get everyone to yell in unison for our school (0ur brand)? Let's give them giant card-board cones and call them "megaphones! That probably worked for a while, and when people started ignoring the cheerleaders again and watching the game, they added cute girls, then made them do flips.
Fast forward back to the game. As soon as the time out was over, the cheerleaders would sit down, pompoms in laps, and that guy would start yelling. You know that guy. The one with his face painted and the viking hat. He was the guy who understood the game well enough to get everyone on there feet to make some noise on defense. He harassed the ref appropriately and said hilarious an inappropriate things that the school couldn't put on banners. And I realized that this arena was the perfect microcosm of what is happening in Marketing/advertising/social media.
Your product is the team on the court.
The Cheerleaders is your advertising
that Guy is your key consumer (the superfan or maven)
the arena is full of disinterested consumers.
Advertisers are doing backflips and building human towers, Sure they are shouting your message at the crowd, but the crowd just wants the product. You can yell at them all you want, but if the product isn't good they will walk out and get nachos. You can give the superfan a bigger megaphone, and make him part of the cheer squad, but then you have just neutered your strongest voice.
So what's a company to do?
I think the answer is both simple and complex. Complex because I don't think it is obvious. Simple because it relies on a brand doing what it is already doing but doing it better, and getting out of the way of the consumer.
So here is my solution in a nutshell. Focus on your game, whatever it is, make it the best, most unique one in town. Hear to your fans, you don't let them coach you don't obey them, but you listen to them and find out what they love about your brand. That guy, put him behind the hoop on the other end of the court; let him be. Take care of the alumni but give, the new fans, give them the best experience, let them learn from that guy what the game is all about. Give them a great experience and a voice to share it with. (at Professional Wrestling matches they will often have free poster board and markers, we can learn something from Hulk Hogan).
Okay, you can keep the cheerleaders, but mostly get them out of the way of the game. Choose cheerleaders that are fans or at the very least make sure that they understand the game well enough to shout "D-FENCE" when the other team has the ball.
What does all that mean? well I am not going to tell you everything.
at least not yet.