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December 6, 2012

Ghost in the machine

by Howard Fox Chartered Marketer

We’re losing the battle, forfeiting our power. Our mojo is weakening. Marketers are being squeezed-out by the machine. Consumers are being assimilated (like the Borg in Star Trek) into the interconnected collective of the market.

It used to be that marketing was about people – we even graciously added them to our “marketing p’s” when we expanded from four to  seven p’s. Obviously they weren’t so important that they made it into the initial quadrumvirate, but we’ve grown to understand people. Research and insight teams helped. People liked us and our brands. It’s been a great century together, driving the economic miracle of consumption-driven capitalism. They were simple creatures these ‘people’. They diligently consumed traditional, mass media and didn’t talk back. Importantly, businesses selling to people need marketers with our addiction to expensive advertising and promotions, while media owners since Guttenberg have happily provided the setting for this love-in.

This article first appeared in 'The Annual 2012'.

This article first appeared in
‘The Annual 2012′.

Party-pooper Sir Timothy John Berners-Lee, OM, KBE, (‘Tim BL’ to his mates) gatecrashed the party with his Internet thingy. He seems like a bright guy – what was he thinking connecting the world like that? The tyranny of search. Price-comparison engines. Online shopping. It’s changed the game. Gone are the days when marketers decided what consumers would know, and where the only feedback was monthly brand awareness scores from the research house. Pay-per-click advertising’s explicit stats effectively writes its own copy. Comparison engines determine viable pricing. Social media feedback issues prompt snotklaps to campaigns that miss the mark.

The technologising of marketing is accelerating. The ‘Internet of things’, first proposed by Kevin Ashton – an expert in RFID (the technology that makes your staff access-card work) in 1999, will hasten this trend. Once virtually (pardon the pun) all marketable items are systemically identifiable within the ‘collective’ that is the Internet, the rules irrevocably change. Your fridge, having ascertained your habits, restocks itself automatically. Location-based services centred on consumers’ cell phones, combined with social media profiles such as “Klout”, will ensure automated marketing discount systems only offer free cappuccinos to those with high influence. Google, already ubiquitous in search, geospatial data (e.g. Google Maps, Earth) and consumer advertising behaviour reveals its true intention with acquisitions such as ITA Software, which offers “comprehensive airfare pricing and shopping options”. Sounds like marketing. Not sure their mantra of ‘don’t be evil’ will protect us.

Human assimilation into the marketing collective is next. For the duration of the 2012 Olympics, the London Eye ferris-wheel radiated the prevailing Olympic sentiment of the Twitterverse. An algorithm determined whether tweeters were collectively positive or negative, displaying their sentiment in the colour of the wheel’s illumination.

Combine this simple depiction of the current zeitgeist with individual consumer’s thoughts and assimilation would be complete. Emotiv, an Australian company, has developed a ‘revolutionary new personal interface for human computer interaction based on the latest developments in neuro-technology’. The $300 EPOC headset, according to its manufacturer, interprets facial expressions and emotional states in real-time while it reads and interprets a player’s conscious thoughts and intent.

So in my favourite scenario, your Internet-enabled fridge’s twitter algorithm notes an inconsistency between a particularly positive public spirit and lamentably low stocks of Champagne for a Friday night knees up. Checking your own sentiment from signals emanating from your neural headset, it determines you too are indeed in the party mood. Inviting your Facebook friends currently in town, (perhaps asking you to confirm those perennially on your “b-list”), it calculates the quantum of supplies needed. Utilising price comparison engines, it flashes a shortlist of three your favourite brands onto your computer. Your headset detects your reaction, picking your favourite. Later when only the hangover remains, your ever-helpful kitchen appliance tweets the attendees a survey, checking not only whether you did indeed choose the favourite Champers, but checking your personal party brand standing as well.

Marketers, we had better start learning machine language.

This article was first published in The Annual 2012.

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