Participatory Marketing

Yello Brick is a successful, creative marketing agency based in Cardiff that creates engaging and participatory experiences for brands and organisations. One example of their work is “Eyespy” – a multiple location street game involving 12 indoor and outdoor locations, performers, telephony technology and excited participants that have two and a half hours in which to emerge themselves in the narrative of the game.

All of this, as exciting and innovative as it sounds, may cause some people to question its success. However, participatory marketing is not quite as new, as you may believe and has proved its efficiency long time ago.


History of participatory marketing

The idea of this marketing originated back in 1924 at a factory in Chicago called Howthorne. At the time researchers from Harvard and MIT were using the factory workers to test their productivity under different circumstances. The conditions they were put under would vary – brighter or shorter light, longer or shorter hours and even no light at all – working in complete darkness. No matter what conditions the workers were put under, test results would always come up showing improvement in productivity. Not only that, the workers were becoming advocates to whatever it was that was tested on them. Pretty soon the researchers realised that it was not the tests that were manipulating the results, it was the effect of participating in something – people enjoyed that so much, they would become more productive. Thus the “Howthorne” effect was borne. After 1924 the concept slowly started changing and evolving more and more.

Basic timeline of participatory marketing

1930 – Supermarket co-development

1979 – Customer source of productivity

1989 – Customising consumer

1996 – Customers contribute to quality

2000 – Active role

2007 – DEWmocracy

But what exactly is it?

By definition participatory marketing is “ A collaboration between the consumer and the company, where input from the consumer is just as valuable as that from the company” It is also referred to co-creation, crowd sourcing, consumer-generated content or co-development. The basic idea behind it is that marketing is created with the people, rather than just targeted at them. It has many different forms such as tech challenges, online brainstorming or just word of mouth networks. It has been estimated, by P&G, that participatory marketing is five times more effective than standard marketing and can boost sales up to 10%. The main reason behind it? It stimulates key growth factor- recommendations. It has other benefits as well, such as cost reduction, strengthening of customer relationships by empowering the consumers and revealing unmet market needs. There are a number of risks that should be taken into account, depending on the campaign – secrecy, product feasibility and ownership in intellectual property rights are a few.



In November 2007, PeopsiCo launched a new Mountain Dew marketing campaign called DEWmocracy that was to become a famous example for how extremely successful participatory marketing can be. Designed in three phases, the campaign wanted consumers to create a new, permanent flavour for the drink. The first phase involved a short film, a website and an online role-playing game. The movie would explain the purpose of the campaign and the game, while the actual game would involve people choosing flavours, brand designs and names for the potential new drink. 700 000 individual users spend about 27 minutes on the designated website, which proved a definite success for the brand. Phase two began in January 2008 and three final drinks were selected – Supernova, Revolution and Voltage, that were later released in shops all over North America and people started voting for their favourites, as part of phase three.