30 Apr 2010

The genius of Douglas Rushkoff

This week, I'd written a post on the Ad Age Agency Report 2010. In it, I'd looked at a fundamental change in advertising that no one seems to notice. A change that was probably more alarming because it was expected: In 2009, the advertising industry recorded the biggest fall in revenue in its history! Only specialised digital advertising agencies recorded a 0.5% growth!

One seemingly irrelevant bit of trivia in the report was that the largest agency in the US was no longer on Madison Avenue, it was a digital data-centric direct marketing and CRM company based in Arkansas, called Acxiom. That was a surprise, certainly to me.

Then last night I came across a brilliant theorist, Douglas Rushkoff. on Frontline. And suddenly I was able to connect the dots. Seriously.

The two videos below are programmes on Frontline from 2001 and 2004. (They are rather long videos - about an hour each - but if you are in marketing or advertising, I strongly recommend you watch both.) Here's why...

The first video (2001) neatly sums up how 'traditional' advertising worked. It is primarily about medium-based broadcasting. It's about how big media, print and electronic, sold us a more desirable image of ourselves - and the brands that would enable it.

The second video (from 2004) offers what I believe is the clearest picture of what the next wave of advertising will look like. Yes, it is digital. And it is going to be about profile-based narrowcasting. From the outside, it looks like a good way to avoid clutter of mass media, but I think it's a more fundamental shift in the way we see ourselves.

Maybe it's because the globalised economy (and global media) has now given us an extremely ubiquitous and largely homogeneous global idea of what's 'cool'. (Just think, t-shirts and jeans is default attire today from Argentina to Norway, and Iran to Canada.) Or maybe it's how digital technologies like the Internet are enabling us to increasingly connect with communities of 'others like us', making us more comforable with who we are - and thus making advertising that's still showcasing a more desirable and 'cool' image, well, more or less obsolete. We now pay attention only when the message is has to do with the 'my or my community's interests'.

So what has Acxiom got to do with all this? You will see it at the end of the second video. So do I mean to say that the digital element, and direct marketing in particular, is the future of advertising? Well, it'd be foolish to think it won't be at the heart of it.

Now watch.



Meanwhile, Douglas Rushkoff's fundamental theory is that the Internet has yet to realise it's true potential as a tool for social change. And I am not talking Facebook and Twitter here, folks.

Watch, as this rather inarticulate and border-line incoherent genius expounds his theory at Web2ExpoSF 09. It's called "How the Web Ate the Economy, and Why This Is Good for Everyone"!

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