Archive for May, 2009
In our 21st century, Twitter-fied world, we’re so hyped up on communication it’s as if we’re swimming through two layers of air. If fish are oblivious to water, then humans are oblivious to air and (quickly becoming) oblivious to the constant barrage of communication we produce.
For those of you who follow the NBA, you know that the Orlando Magic’s Dwight Howard was suspended for Game 6 in the Magic’s first-round playoff series against the Philadelphia 76ers. How did he spend his night off? By Tweeting. Here are the highlights:
“did yalllllllll seeeeeeee thatttttttt”
“With the left. Yeaaaaa polish hammer” (when teammate Marcin Gortat threw down a dunk)
“man im soo proud man. yall have no clue. we gonna be on the plane doin the pool palace lol”
This is just one of millions of Tweeting examples. Everyone from Al Gore to Coldplay to the NFL have Twitter accounts. You can even follow Barack Obama’s teleprompter.
Then there’s Facebook. Every business known to mankind has a Facebook fan page. Heck, even God has a fan page on Facebook (and people actually post “prayers” on the wall…yeah, that’s not weird). And, of course, Facebook enables you to be the kind of gossip that puts Perez Hilton to shame. Everything going on in your friends’ lives – from pictures of last night’s kegger to their current emotional instability – is right there for you to peruse and comment on.
Aside from the social network sites, there are actual Web sites. Tostitos has the NOLAF viral Web site. JC Penney’s did the “Beware of the Doghouse” online campaign. Heinz lets you “Talk to the Plant” in its Interactive Ketchup Growing Experiment.
Hang on a sec. Just got a Tweet update on my cell phone…Oooh! Guy Berryman of Coldplay just woke up. Good morning, Guy!
Feeling saturated yet? We are bombarded like atoms with communication.
Two things here. First, the way communication style is changing before our eyes. I love how Bill Simmons, ESPN columnist and blogger, describes this change:
The more interesting angle for me is how Twitter and Facebook reflect where our writing is going thanks to the Internet. In 15 years, writing went from “reflecting on what happened and putting together some coherent thoughts” to “reflecting on what happened as quickly as possible” to “reflecting on what’s happening as it’s happening” to “here are my half-baked thoughts about absolutely anything and I’m not even going to attempt to entertain you,” or as I like to call it, Twitter/Facebook Syndrome. Do my friends REALLY CARE if I send out an update, “Bill is flying on an airplane finishing a mailbag right now?” (Which is true, by the way.) I just don’t think they would. I certainly wouldn’t. That’s why I refuse to use Twitter.
And don’t forget character limits! Twitter only gives you 140 characters to work with, which is a problem if you are right now in the middle of, say, “Applying Boudrillard’s simulacra/simulacrum to the social networking sites in an attempt to identify the generation of models of the hyperreal in our digital ‘desert of the real’.”
That’s 25 characters too many for a Twitter feed. Dwindling attention spans – especially in those born after 1990 – pose mind-boggling challenges to marketers, educators and regular individuals alike (especially parents of teens). “Quality, not quantity” used to mean that less is more, but in quality’s favor. Now, less is more in quantity’s favor: the less you say and the shorter you say it, the better. Punctuation and complete sentences be damned, just tell me in as little time as possible so I can skip to the next song on my iPod.
Secondly, and I believe more importantly, is the question of: Where do we go from here? Didn’t the “gotta have it” stage of social networking sites and viral Web campaigns hit its peak a few years ago? Obviously there are stragglers to the marketing possibilities of these technologies. And there is still unbelievable potential in these mediums, just as there is still huge marketing potential in radio advertisements, and they’ve been commonplace for decades now. But if Katie Couric is Tweeting, and if God has a fan page on Facebook, I think we’ve passed the point of novelty and have arrived at commonplace.
Right? I mean, if “everyone is doing it,” then what comes next? And what do we as marketers need to do to push the envelope? You have a Facebook page? Am I supposed to be impressed or something? Your rock band is on myspace? Congratulations, welcome to earth. You have a Web-only commercial running on YouTube? It’s about time.
These technologies have invoked a lot of interaction, as is the goal when companies use them for marketing purposes. Yet there is a limitation to the amount of genuine communication with a lot of these tools. Take the Tweet from Coldplay: Guy Berryman told all of the band’s followers that he just got up. Now unless Coldplay, for some unknown reason, decides to follow me, they will have no idea what’s going on in my life. Rude. Sure, I can do an “@” comment and say, “Good morning!” like thousands of other people who have no lives, but is Guy Berryman going to reply to my salutation? As if. It’s a one-way communication model. And even if you like talking to a tomato plant (the Heinz campaign), Twitter feeds, fan pages and viral Web campaigns are decidedly one-sided.
When you couple an avalanche of constant communication with an often blocked-off communication cycle, the customers (and even your friends) might start to look elsewhere for recognition and interaction. Remember how the fish is oblivious to water, and we are oblivious to air? We are now oblivious to all of this “interaction,” and we will only begin to notice it once the next big thing comes along. Which is kind of like air: we only notice it when it’s not there.
So what comes next? Will there be a return to more a stripped-down, “earthy” approach to marketing and communication? Will the continual evolution of the Internet produce even shorter communication patterns, possibly reaching the point where it reduces our lexicon to a purely image-driven system, like the ancient Egyptians? I think it’s safe to say, though, that whatever comes next won’t be like Monty Python – something completely different and unexpected. It will be something familiar but enhanced; recognizable but revolutionized. As Marshall McLuhan said, “We drive into the future using only our rear view mirror.”
The next marketing paradigm shift is for us to decide. We’ve come this far, and we need to start asking (and answering) the question of what comes next. We owe it to our clients; we owe it to humanity.
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