Looking for the new new new thing

I attended a Digital Dinner this evening, in a crypt off Bleeding Heart Square. This was close to Hatton Garden, which was where I spent many happy days as a young tyke, filing tax records for my father, and strangely is now near the headquarters of lastminute.com, my first employer. It’s also (I think) the venue for a blind date I had with a chinless wonder, where I drank five pints of strong beer and we didn’t get on, but we won’t go on about that any more than we have to.

It made me worry that Twitter is already too old. When people are describing themselves in terms of hashtags and their Twitter bios, and you have to hold back from your actual one (“Wrote a novel. Received death threats. Moved to Hong Kong. No more death threats. Yet.”) because you’re worried it won’t go down too well, then you may start to think that Twitter has already leapt from being a vaguely anarchic thing that nobody could find a legitimate purpose for, to yet another channel of roiling, hopeless marketing messages. And look, I come from the future (or Singapore) where people do incredible, futuristic things. Like watching Korean soap operas on their mobile phones. Hey, it’s futuristic. In the past, people watched soap operas on televisions, which are all boring and fuddy-duddy, unlike mobile phones, which are The Future, even if people use them to do the same old things that they ever did.

The general consensus was that if you want to use video to market your brand, you need to have compelling content. Unfortunately, that’s as useful to most people as stock market advice like “buy low, sell high”; if you can’t articulate what compelling content is, then it’s no good believing that you should have some video in your marketing strategy. Well, maybe it is. Maybe, if you believe hard enough, then a ten minute video that just shows different angles of the same shampoo bottle will be enough to assure you of fame and fortune forever.

There was some disagreement about whether we were at the edge of a bold new world or not. Some people there felt that mobiles phones would revolutionise the world, others that Ridley Scott was desperately needed to make more adverts. Well, as long as he’s not filming Prometheus, I’m happy, but that’s not going to be a valid contribution to the conversation. I kept trying to point out that the future is probably an advertiser-co-produced reality show, stamping on a human face, forever, but while building your own Apprentice/Pimp My Ride/South Something-or-other Choppers is a possibility for some people, not everyone can build a self-guided, heatseeking reality show that funds itself by being a free advert for your company for half an hour.

Well, perhaps everyone can, but I’m not sure who’s going to watch all the advertiser-created reality-horror, spewed across the airwaves and Youtube like a self-replicating machine, designed to suck the money from your wallet. There are only so many eyeballs, after all.

The trouble is, people are getting better at spotting being manipulated by advertisers’ messages, even as the delivery of those messages improves. There’s an arms race at play here, and given that the popular stuff on Youtube/Facebook/anyone else is either incredibly cheap stuff (cat videos fabricated out of cardboard and string) or ludicrously overproduced (all the wholesale theft of properly engineered content) then there’s little room left for a brand to invest in making something that doesn’t have a huge production budget, or is something so cheap and shady that it could have been made by Johnny from Accounts in his lunch hour.

Perhaps that’s a good thing.

Perhaps that means we’re going to see lots more inventive work, where people try and do things that avoid the age old advertising tactics of trying to just make people buy things they didn’t know they wanted. Or else it will be a man in a t-shirt, inexplicably half naked in a calculatedly incongruous situation, to sell us packets of breakfast cereal. Or (and a few people will get this right, and nobody else will) something slick, well produced, without costing a fortune, will make people fall in love with a few brands (and only a few) and everyone else will be out of the game, or still spending a million on something nobody believes in.

Meanwhile, I’m still trying to figure out if I’m too old for Twitter, or if Twitter is too old for me. When the new new new thing comes to replace the new new thing, please let me know.

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