A Little Rebellion

This fall I was honored to write the foreword for Carat Insight's "Moving Forward" quarterly report. I was asked to offer some perspective on the changing fortunes of our industry and of the medium we're all building together. In this first Drift of 2004, that perspective seemed appropriate. Here's to a remarkable and rebellious 2004!

Recently I heard the former CEO of a major U.S. packaged goods company say that the economic boom of the 1990s had masked what he considered "the fundamental collapse of marketing in this country." While most marketing and media professionals in the crowd collectively gasped at this rather harsh assessment, I found myself vigorously nodding and warmly smiling at the speaker.

Harkening back to the rather heady time I spent at Wired in the early 90s, I've come to view digital media and communication as nothing less than a revolutionary force in marketing, advertising and media, where I've spent the past 20 years of my career. Nourished and encouraged by the ideas of McLuhan, Brand and other media bomb-throwers, we felt we could clearly see the shortcomings in existing media and marketing practices. And just as clearly, we could see the ascendant role of digital media: the Internet, wireless, handheld computing and more.

It took a few years, but the revolution has taken hold. Media and marketing have changed, profoundly and permanently. But as William Gibson wrote, "The future is already here. It's just unevenly distributed." Some of us will embrace change and make it the cornerstone of opportunity and innovation. Others will defend the status quo and attempt to retrofit the business and marketing models of the 1970s and 80s to the 21st Century world. How we as individuals and organizations adapt to this brave new world is a matter of personal choice and commitment.

While we can be certain that television will remain a vital marketing medium for years to come, we can be equally sure that it will never be the same. The emergence of Personal Video Recorders, proliferation of media choices and the continuing erosion of the consumer attention span have created the "perfect storm" for the 30-second TV spot. If it's to continue to serve marketers, television itself will have to rapidly adapt, bringing new imagination and creativity in creating solutions.

Another force that is dramatically changing the marketing and media landscape is generational change. I was fortunate enough to be involved this year with Carat Interactive and Yahoo! in the creation of "Born to Be Wired," a landmark research study and marketer event. Today's teens and young adults - "Millennials" - have never lived in a world where the Internet wasn't a primary media and communications platform. And as the "Born to Be Wired" study confirmed, these young consumers take a fundamentally different view of "all" media as a result. To them, the web and the cell phone are the "framework on which the media world is constructed." This presents a bracing challenge to marketers and agencies to rethink their current media buying models and practices: "These are your customers for the next 40 years...meet them on their own terms."

Yesterday's marketing and advertising models have indeed collapsed, creating a vacuum that's being filled by creativity, vision and innovation. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to James Madison, "A little rebellion every now and then is a good thing." To those who would lead with imagination, the media revolution is a liberating force and a pathway into the new world of marketing, communication and customer relationships.

Send your comments and questions directly to Doug Weaver