As you might have noticed from my few new year posts, I’ve been pondering and advocating my network to think strategically and critically about the state of social, the state of traditional media and the state of web and what it means for us in the coming few years.
On Super Bowl Sunday, Seth Godin has raised a very bright point in around media and its role in his post.
Our digitally connected world is now very personal and distastes anything and everything ‘mass’. (More on this in the post on online commerce). Most of what we consume as a society today has been directed and crafted through the use of mass mediums like TV, Print and Radio. And this mass medium strategy has worked marvelously in influencing our preferences, likes, dislikes, culture and ultimately our choices — specially during the industrial era when there were no alternatives.
These days, we live in a 4 screen world where TV, PC, mobile and tablet experiences co-exist together. Ironically, 3 of those screens are very personal, interactive and custom to our preferences and socially enabled experiences. The experience of our web medium is vastly different from the experience of a broadcast medium.
Marshall McLuhan predicted the Internet as an “extension of consciousness” in The Gutenberg Galaxy: The Making of Typographic Man thirty years before its commercialization. He stated, The next medium, whatever it is – it may be the extension of consciousness – will include television as its content, not as its environment.
So the question is, Can we or Do we have the ability to re-create another Super Bowl like event for another
50 10 years in a different sport (or commercially backed and supported activity)?
Before you answer this, I have quoted Seth’s post for us to ponder together about the upcoming, drastically different, few years in our digital economy.
Why do we care about football?
For someone outside the US, the visceral connection with football seems mysterious. You can understand a lot about the future (and past) of marketing once you understand how the sport turned into a cultural touchstone.
Tribes -> TV -> Money -> Mass -> TV -> Tribes
Football as we know it started in colleges. It was an epic muddy battle, pitting one alma mater against another, a war-like, non-balletic battle that united (at a pretty elemental level) the tribes on each side. As it grew as a college sport, it became as much of a social event as a sporting one, with alumni and students finding connection around a game.
But if that’s all it was, today wouldn’t be the biggest day of the year for several industries. If that’s all it was, you wouldn’t be able to pick a fight merely by challenging the hegemony of football or the local team. We’d be spending as much time and energy on soccer or lacrosse or basketball, but we don’t.
No, it turns out that, quite accidentally, football, more than any other sport, is made for television. It’s better on TV than it is live. The combination of the play clock, the angles, the repetition and the opportunity for analysis all make it perfect to watch on TV. And perfect to run commercials on. TV and football grew up together, side by side. Instant replay and the thirty-second commercial, supporting each other.
It’s not an accident that the commercials are as much a part of the Super Bowl as the game. The commercials represent both the cash component of football as well as the cultural souvenirs that go with our consumption of the game.
Fifty years ago, a coat salesman paid $4,000 for the rights to film a game, and NFL Films was born. The decisions Ed and Steve Sobel made over the years turned the sport cinematic, amplifying the tribal origins but taking them much further. They used sound editing and shot on film, all to transform a game into a spectacle.
Then, the second great accident occurred: As football became the official sport of television, it generated billions of dollars in revenue. This revenue led advertisers to push for more football, which led to more television, which led to colleges transforming football from a small sideline into a cash cow of some focus, despite the fact that it has very little to do with the core mission of the institution.
People justify the unpaid (and dangerous) labor of college football players by pointing to all the scholarships. But the scholarships aren’t for playing football, they are for appearing on TV. That’s what pays for the system.
The media-football complex drives deep into childhood, with many kids fast-tracked from a very young age into the game (not soccer, not baseball, not physics) at some level because of TV and because of money and because of tribes. If football is part of what we stand for, then of course we’re happy to have our kid be part of that. But what does it mean for football to be part of what you stand for?
No one stands for movies, or ice cream or double-entry bookkeeping. No, a sport has become a pillar of our worldview, a tribal and economic connection to our past and our future. We don’t want to understand the history and the money and the happy accidents. We just assume that this is as it was and as it will be.
Going forward, no other sport will ever have a run like this, because the TV-cash part of the connection can’t be recreated. Mass TV built many elements of our culture, but mass TV (except for tonight) is basically over.
The new media giants of our age (Facebook, Twitter, Google, etc.) don’t point everyone to one bit of content, don’t trade in mass. Instead, they splinter, connecting many to many, not many to one.
The cultural touchstones we’re building today are mostly not mass, mostly not for everyone. Instead, the process is Tribes -> Connections/communities -> Diverse impact. Without the mass engine of TV, it’s difficult to imagine it happening again. So instead we build our lives around cultural pockets, not cultural mass. Our job as marketers and leaders is to create vibrant pockets, not to hunt for mass.
Image: Google Think Performance Conference, 2012
It is 2012. Not 2003. Or 1986 (remember Bulletin Board Systems? or FidoNet? or 1200 Baud modems?)
Do it right or don’t do it at all. In 2012, big is becoming small and small is becoming large. Your business is the target.
In the 1920s the average lifespan of a company was seventy odd years, today its fifteen years according to Dave Gray of Dachis Group. Why you ask? Failure to adapt and understand the market. If you are still trying to understand if this social computing/media fad will stick around or not, you have clearly missed the boat. And there are no shortcuts, anymore.
The leaders in the digital space have sacrificed, learned, made mistakes and apoligized and re-imagined their future over and over again. They have transformed their businesses to take advantage of this new model of conducting business. No, it’s not just Dell, Intel, IBM, Cisco, TD Bank, Avaya, PwC, Pepsi, Kraft, US Cellular, Comcast, AT&T, TELUS, Bayer, COMEX, Walmart, AMEX, ING, Zappos, Amazon or 52% of rest of the Fortune 500 in process of realizing social’s potential in driving their business objectives. Nor the thousands of superb small businesses with ability to connect and woo your customers.
US Cellular, Kraft Foods, and Discover Financial Network all indicate that culture change is the number one determinate of social success. But if you are still struggling. I blame you. No one else. If, 84% of top 35 banks have a holistic social media strategy in place and all of the G6 governments have some form of social embedded in their Gov 2.0 initatives. Why are you still lost? In 2012. If highly governed banking sector can get it, you can too.
These companies just didn’t wake up to do social. They aren’t doing social media for the sake of doing social media. They are actually focused on social media to drive business. Are you still getting the same 0.XX% converstion from your direct mails? or Millions spent on Billboards without tracking? The connected consumer doesn’t care for mass advertising as much as they did pre-social media era. The ROI is right here. IBM saves $100m/year via social networking alone!
At the Gartner Portal and Collaboration Conference 2012, Gabriel Gheorghiu tweeted that firms are struggling at social media policy level. Imagine that. Execution is not even in their roadmap (or at least proper execution not mere social media pages/accounts).
While others are truly capitalizing and building networks, you are stuck at factory mindset of uber control in a real-time social medium. If you can learn from McDonald’s failures in the social media, it can be easily deduced that if your talent isn’t practising the social medium and understanding the context, they will execute and make very bad decisions. No matter where they are in their careers, intern or senior exec.
For the first time in our history, throwing money at agencies can’t just fix execution. This isn’t paid media. You need to understand the medium in its entirety. Marshall McLuhan had it right all along. Medium is the message. Even in 2012.