“Change is not what it used to be. The status quo will no longer be the best way forward. That way will be less comfortable and less easy but, no doubt, more interesting.”
Charles Handy penned those words a quarter of a century ago in his book ‘The Age of Unreason‘. Handy took George Bernard Shaw’s observation that all progress depends on the ‘unreasonable man’. He used this to argue that we were at an unprecedented point in history when unreasonable men and women would be the one’s to succeed. Now we can look back and see that his vision for the future proved to be amazingly prescient.
A brave new world
Facebook was the brainchild of a distinctly unreasonable man. Mark Zuckerberg’s meteoric rise from a geeky kid to the second youngest billionaire of 2013 (the first is Zuckerberg’s old roommate Dustin Moskovitz, who is 8 days younger) has been mythologized by Hollywood, and the platform he created leapt upon by enthusiastic brands. A new world of Social Media Marketing was born.
Since then, brands and their agencies have been seeking to make sense of a world in which they are constantly connected to consumers. For some it is a terrifying space where corporate misdeeds and marketing mistakes can be ruthlessly exposed. Others have seized the opportunity to build brands by creating engaging content, only to realise that this is a relentless never-ending process.
Who turned out the lights?
When the lights went out during the 2013 Superbowl and Orea published that tweet, it was clear that the rules of the game had changed. Now speed was the barometer of success. Brands were in a race against time – and against each other – to be the first with a witty response to notable events. Sometimes those comments would prove to be ill judged.
When trying to navigate this demanding environment, it’s not surprising that brands and agencies turned towards those organisations that have had a long history of responding in real-time to events in the outside world, media newsrooms. However as the leaked report on innovation at the New York Times reveals, even one of the world’s greatest newsrooms is struggling to adjust to the digital age.
The picture painted in the report is one of crisis, with digital skills being misunderstood by senior management and therefore undervalued. It contrasts this with the success of newer publishers such as Buzzfeed, which is well on the way to becoming the world’s largest online news destination. Buzzfeed may not have the same journalistic pedigree as the New York Times, but it does understand what drives the internet.
Porn, Pets and Selfies
What Tim Berners-Lee could not have known when he invented the World Wide Web, is that the internet would be powered by porn, pets and selfies. The porn industry would become the driver for mass adoption of innovations such as webcams and live streaming. Meanwhile people took to social networks in droves to share images and funny videos of their pets – and of course – #selfies. According to research published on eMarketer in March 2014, photos accounted for 75% of content posted by Facebook pages worldwide.
This doesn’t mean that all brands have to do is post pictures of their products. As Martin Wiegel from W+K in Amsterdam states:
“If you want to FAIL do this…
Assume that people care about brands…
Assume that everyone wants to participate…
Assume that people will find your content.”
He sums up the challenge for marketers: “Our task is not nurturing enthusiasm but overcoming indifference.”
The agencies that will thrive in the Age of Unreason are those that adopt the best practices of media newsrooms, merging these with creativity and insights into what drives user behaviour. They will streamline their processes, becoming more cost effective and agile. They will challenge conventions and take risks, because as Charles Handy puts it, this is a time for “thinking the unlikely and doing the unreasonable.”