The Economist gets on the Hughtrain, Cluetrain and nails the coffin of advertising

by Andy Polaine on April 10, 2005

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Just caught the last issue of The Economist with their feature and survey on “Consumer Power”. It makes pretty interesting reading for anyone working remotely close to the marketing/branding/advertising worlds and is confirmation that big media is starting to catch up with the ideas of the Hughtrain and the death of top-down media and advertising. Only a couple of years late then. Here’s one of Paul Markillie’s (the author) points:

“For some companies this is scary stuff—the same as throwing open your customer-relations files and hoping that people have said enough nice things about you. Companies can, of course, try to control everything that is said and written about them through advertising and public relations. But nowadays a web search can turn up all sorts of skeletons in the cupboard”

For designers this poses a real challenge. How do you design a logo for a brand that has become a conversation without it seeming like you’ve stamped your mark all over it and want to own it? The answer is you don’t. You create a language instead.

That’s exactly what Tomato has been up to with their work for Sony’s Connected Identity and Japan’s TV Asahi. Connected Identity is, quite literally, interactive and ever changing thanks to data and external inputs constantly evolving the logo.

The irony is, of course, that Sony’s world is only connected if you buy into their Memory Stick system and they’re notorious for their ham-fisted control of their brand. The other identity is for a TV Station – the archetypal top-down media controller. Which brings us back to the Hughtrain.

None of this is new though – Tomato also pitched a [similar idea]((http://www.tomato.co.uk/home/branding/channel.html) to Channel Four in the UK ten years ago. We worked with them to create an interactive pitch package, but nobody really got the idea of moving away from a “logo-centric” world-view. I didn’t, nor did Channel Four who went for something else. Kudos to Tomato for being so far ahead of their time – I certainly get it now.

What is useful is the research and statistics, so now it’s possible for these gut feelings to be supported by some real numbers. It’s looking grim for top-down branding and media networks. Forrester research found that 60% of programmes watched by DVR owners are recorded and that 92% skip the ads.

Almost as scary (for brands) is the figure that TNS Media Intelligence add 400-700 new brands to their tracking system (already tracking 2.1m brands) every day. Insane. Time to read Barry Schwartz’s “The Paradox of Choice”.

1 paulpod April 10, 2005 at 2:02 pm

Hmm, careful there cowboy – from my experience, big media (ad agencies specifically) “got it” around mid 2001 for new media in general and late 2003 for new new media (blogs, social networks, etc)…

…they just didn’t know how to “do it”. Most still don’t. Most big old-media outfits (agencies, broadcasters, etc) have well paid clued in strategy bods who are well aware of what is going on. The difficult work is applying it and making it work for the agency, and the client, while not pissing off the audience, while still making a profit, while keeping credibility, while keeping the old-media revenue stram alive. A non-trivial equation in the real world, hughtrain or no.

Which is fine for people like us. We get to figure it out, try things out, get paid and get famous (in a blogosphere relative way) while we’re at it.

As for the Economist, well… never forget current Long Tail boy Chris Anderson used to be the editor…

2 apolaine April 10, 2005 at 2:26 pm

I disagree – I think most big media agencies got “the speak” around mid-2001, but by that time they had sold too many flaky solutions for too much money and lost their integrity. That helped the collapse of the industry for a while too.

Remember you were on the ground doing the work at that time and, I’m sure, you got it, as did many of the people we were working for. Just not many of the people we were working for. Remember the gag “If you don’t know how to do anything you get promoted to strategy”?

Doing it is the hard part, you’re quite right, but that’s the part that the big agencies tend to overlook when it comes to putting the money in the right places.

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