Advertisers are in a bind. Many fear
they have too little to say to attract and hold consumer attention.
In the past they could rely on traditional media owners to reach
consumers. By advertising in commercial breaks around the edges of
content they could take advantage of the audience that shows had
Fragmentation has meant consumers are
gathering in big numbers less and less and that the cost of taking
advantage of the aggregation ability of others has become ever
higher. The internet is the great disintermediator, connecting
everything to everything, but this direct connection comes with a
cost. Brands with little to say do not attract any attention in a
world where communications are spread by consumer networks rather
than broadcast ones.
However, the challenge isn't simply
about distribution, it's also about the means of production. Until
very recently, the ability to make something public, to publish, to
a mass audience, was a privileged act. The powers that be
historically outlawed the ability to disseminate information -
unlicensed printing presses were illegal, as they still are under
certain modern regimes, such as in Malaysia under the Printing
Presses and Publications Act of 1984. When the age of mass media
arrived, only governments, the media industrial complex and the
advertising industry were able to create and distribute culture. So
when you saw such elements of culture, you couldn't help but be
The exponential impact of Moore's Law
means that the computing power of a bespoke Silicon Graphics
workstation, as used to create the special effects for Terminator 2
and Jurassic Park, can now be easily approximated on a consumer
laptop. Digital technology has given every consumer the power to
create content. The monetary power of brands no longer buys them
uniqueness. We can all make films, we can all create web pages and
we can all record our own music. The magic that exclusive access to
this technology used to deliver has evaporated.
Content producers - the role
traditionally taken by ad agencies in the marketing industry - no
longer have exclusive access to the magic that is content creation.
That isn't to say the quality of "consumer-generated content" [a
tellingly oxymoronic term] is on par with Hollywood production.
Rather, the gap between not being able to do something and being
able to do it is infinite, but the gap between being bad and
excellent is simply one of degree. It's hard to be amazed with any
technical wizardry on film when you grow up with iMovie at your
fingertips. But all is not doom and gloom for smart brands. They
still have strategic advantages in the eternal quest for consumer
attention: technology and scale.
Technology provides a canvas that is
yet to be effectively colonised by the amateur and, as Arthur C.
Clarke famously pointed out, any sufficiently advanced technology
is indistinguishable from magic. Thus, technology provides a medium
to amaze and cut through the clutter of content.
Because technology companies often
tout their latest tools to brands and media owners to help drive
uptake, brands have first user advantages.
The Pepsi TEN project is an explicit
manifestation of this advantage. The consumer packaged goods giant
established a venture fund to support and partner with early stage
technology start-ups in order to exclusively leverage the
technologies for marketing. The problem with the blurring of the
technology and the communications industries, however, is that they
are divided by a common language. Words that should mean the same
thing often mean something completely different to those on either
side of the divide.
Take a simple word like platform. To a
communications specialist it means an idea or theme that all
messages fit into, but to a technology expert it means an
underlying technology that enables other products or services to be
built on it. This means that collaboration among disciplines can
seem to be aligned when it isn't. At the extreme, creative
directors trained in writing or graphic design find themselves
being asked to review algorithms they can't understand, as code
becomes a creative deliverable.
THE VIEWS AND OPINIONS
EXPRESSED IN THIS DOCUMENT ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR.