A column by Court Stroud, director at content production platform Skyword ( via: Hispanic Market Weekly)


Dressed in a cowboy hat, flashy silver belt buckle and tight black jeans, evil never looked so good. In the debut episode of Telemundo’s new telenovela “El Senor de los Cielos,” narco-trafficker Aurelio Casillas forces a horrified youth to slay a golden retriever, assuring that the audience will be glued to the screen while waiting for the killer with the killer good looks to get his just desserts.How do we know Casillas will die a horrible death? The Law of Reciprocity, of course. Lo que siembres cosecharás. This drug kingpin rips up the Golden Rule in the first ten minutes of the series – and we all know karma can be a real bitch.Reciprocity can be found in every corner of the planet and in every area of life: politics, interpersonal relationships, religion – and yes, even in advertising.

Content marketing, also known as brand journalism, has become the rage. Tapestry’s managing director Lia Silkworth has gone on the record to say, “Content marketing is everything we do nowadays.” The Custom Content Council reports this month that in 2012, 39 percent of marketing budgets were dedicated to content marketing and total spending ended the year at $43.9 billion dollars.

In the past, the limited number of channels to reach consumers meant that marketers could feel somewhat sheltered from the Law of Reciprocity. An audience would have to be either very angry or blissfully happy in order to be moved strongly enough to respond to a message.

In today’s digital age, however, the balance of power has shifted.

Consumers now can talk back through social media, which has made keeping reciprocity top of mind much more important for those of us in the advertising and communications industry. An April 2013 InsightsOne study says that U.S. consumers are tired of bad ads, with 91 percent reporting seeing them, and 87 percent saying they will start to ignore a company that sponsors an ad deemed irrelevant.

In a Harvard Business Review article released last week by digital thought leaders Mark Bonachek and Cara France entitled “People Are the New Channel,” the duo posits that in the past, channels delivered messages to audiences. You were either a media company, which owned the channel, or you were a brand or agency, which rented someone else’s.

However, with the rise of social media such as Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, consumers are becoming the most important pipeline for distributing information. Bonachek and France write that, “What used to be a hierarchy with the company at the top is now a network with the customer at the center.”

The old school  “push” form of advertising has given way to “pull.” This monumental power shift means marketers have to treat consumers better, as people cannot be owned or rented.  Brands, agencies and media companies must make a fundamental shift by talking with, not to, an audience.

In the shift from pipes to people, Bonacheck and France suggest adopting the strategy: “Don’t talk, listen.”

How can marketers use reciprocity to their advantage? Social entrepreneur and former deputy director of the Illinois Business Enterprise Program Ruddy Ortiz offers some observations to the topic of sowing what you reap in his book The Irrefutable Power of a Renewed Mind.

He names the five elements of reciprocity, all of which may be useful when applied to the world of advertising.

  • We harvest according to the kind of seed that we plant. Whatever you put out into the world will be what you get back. If you create tired or annoying ads, don’t expect good results.
  • We reap more than what we sow. If you sow negativity in your communication strategy, expect an increase in negativity. Conversely, the positive, engaging messages will result in an increase in sales and affirming brand awareness.
  • It takes time to reap what you have sown. For brand managers and marketers, it’s important to remember that it takes time for messages to resonate with a target audience.
  • The quality of the harvest depends on the quality of the soil. If you’re offering a product and/or message of value, you’ll be rewarded handsomely. If you’re intention is to fool an unsuspecting public, then getting back quality results will prove thorny.
  • Harvests show up gradually. Take time to consciously sow positive ad messages, and you can be assured of reaping increased sales and brand awareness.

The Law of Reciprocity is constantly in effect, whether we know it or not. When it comes to the advertising world, let’s leave the negativity to bad boys in telenovelas, like the ruthless Aurelio Casillas.

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