At the recent Silicon Beach event I was lucky to be able to meet and chat with agency legend Andy Law. I didn’t know he was an agency legend until talking to him (man – for most of the time Andy’s been in the agency world, I was nestled in the world of tech). But we seemed to get on pretty well, and he kindly invited me along to the launch of his new book, Implosion, which took place last night.
He has an strong viewpoint on the way in which the Internet is changing society, the nature of our relationships and the outcomes for business. Reading it over the course of journeys in and out of London, what have I learned?
From Law’s perspective, the internet has become a basic human need, down in the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Strong words, but something I reflected on as a rummaged around in panic this morning as I thought I’d left my phone at home. It felt, for a moment, that a part of me was missing. That’s the new reality, however sad it might sound.
The internet is unlike any (successful) technological innovation in our history – it didn’t come about to address a particular human need. That’s maybe not entirely true (the internet solved a need to allow computers to communicate with each other; the web solved a need for the sharing of information amongst academic groups), but undoubtedly where we are now is a world where the ways in which we use the internet in our lives have evolved in harmony with the things which we do with them. The content that we create and want to share shapes the services that emerge to allow them to do them – but none of this is like the need to get from A to B that was solved progressively through domestication of horses, through the building of roads, canals, railways, airliners and so on.
That in turn has disrupted the ways in which the old media networks provide value to customers and audiences alike – something akin to what I’ve written about in the past around the breaking down of the value in proprietary networks.
We are now all “screenagers” – individuals connected to our smartphone screens; content creation and consumption becomes becomes increasingly narcissistic, but that then also challenges traditional marketing models of segmentation and demographics where the only segment of value is the segment of “me”. New business that get that (Andy uses Amazon as a prime example) use data to provide products that are likely to be of value based on individual behaviour rather than aggregated stereotypes.
Politics also changes as we move from democracy into “atomocracy” – a government of one; the social movements that emerge within the online world, whilst quick are often insubstantial. I’m not so sure on this – thinking that maybe it’s more a move into a (hopefully benevolent) anarchy. But I do agree about the somewhat superficial nature of online movements (particularly the online petition movement – you’re hardly politically active if all you are willing to do is press “yes” on an online petition).
All of this leads to a world where it is no longer appropriate to spend your time building products and then trying to convince people of their value – value now needs to be intrinsic in the product. Andy’s conclusion – and where I think I differ – is that this will lead to a renaissance in marketing; I think this spells the end of marketing in the ways in which it has been practised in the past 100 or so years; the brand “marketing” won’t sustain the change. But he’s the adland legend and I’m the pretender pseudo-geek, so what am I to know.
The book is well worth a read. Law blends media theory with astute observation culled from his work with major clients from the pre-web era to the present day. It puts context into what’s happening, and also does lay down a significant challenge to the marketer who seem to think that the way to deal with the digital and social realm is to try to turn it into a mass broadcast medium. It brought out the sociologist in me.
The other thing I learned? In this world of screenagers, when I haven’t read a printed book for a couple of years (with Kindle now being my weapon of choice) I realised how endlessly interrupted I have become when trying to consume information. The printed book doesn’t keep popping up alerts for Twitter, email, LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram and the rest – and I doubt I’d have read the thing in such short a space of time if I’d been doing it on my phone or tablet. But I found that I missed the interaction that I have now with eBooks – I annotate and highlight on Kindle in a way that feels deeply sacrilegious on a printed page.