Pirates have friends too. Do the math

There’s a growing awareness that ‘content pirates’ are not quite the demons that traditional media businesses would have us think they are.

Image from mikebaird

Image from mikebaird

The colourful image of one-eyed bandits storming the archives of clean-living movie makers has been touted around since the birth of the video tape. “If only they didn’t love us so much,” as a Disney exec once complained, with a jewelled hand to his brow.

Yet this week’s suppressed report from GfK joins a body of research findings dating back several years (including Forester, and Google’s former CIO Doug Merrill) which clearly show that the people who are doing the copying are actually the ones contributing most money.

I’d go a step further, I’d say that the people who take the time and effort (and risk) of stealing music and movies and games are also those that are heeded most often by their friends.

In advertising terms, these are the ‘salespeople’, the connectors between product and customer who go out of their way to find out more about the brand so that they can look cooler by telling all their friends about it.

Which means they provide a cash contribution via word of mouth in addition to spending the most money.

Yet still there is little effort by the publishers, the studios, the producers, the broadcasters to work with them constructively, creatively, out in the open. Warner Bros, for example, has only just begun looking at what differentiates pirates’ spending habits.

Here are a few things to do if you’re in the business of selling content that can be freely distributed online:

  1. Develop a segmented view of your audience that includes the different types of people who steal
  2. Work out some creative ways of bringing ‘pirates’ into your business model, probably around game layers and loyalty badges
  3. Make sure your business knows what you’re doing and why you’re doing it
  4. Work out the following 3 numbers: how much you expect to make from working with pirates, how much you will spend in doing it, and how much you’re prepared to count as ‘wastage’ while they rip off your traditional product

About Morgan Holt

Morgan Holt is senior strategist at Wolff Olins, the global game-changing brand consultancy. He is also chairman of the Branded Content Marketing Association, and a non-executive director of CN Media Group.

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