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Thursday, May 01, 2008

ROFLCon Musings

Just because it wasn’t a high school student council conference, doesn’t mean it didn’t feel like one. For serious. I used to attend those. The “it” I am referring to was the ROFLCon conference in Cambridge, MA. The energy was palpable. I hit up the conference and have a few take-aways to impart.

It should be duly noted that this conference has already been documented within an inch of its life. Between Twitter and blogs and video and and and…. The focus on the immediate can hardly be overstated. The play by play of what happened has certainly been delivered, but there were also big ideas discussed.  It is fascinating to consider the way in which our collective responses to provocative ideas are being shaped by the desire, nay the demand of an immediate response. Immediacy fundamentally changes the way in which we respond.

Mostly, what this demand for immediacy underscored for me last week was the inevitable changes it means for brand communications. Especially in the online space, if what you are delivering isn’t “eternal beta,” if it isn’t conversation based --- don’t bother doing it. Really, the propaganda machine is dead. We buried it in the ground next to dinosaurs, nuclear waste, and New Coke. Moving quickly means - you’ve heard it here before - letting go of some control and letting people be in charge. 

What doesn’t get enough attention is the reality of immediacy of action that is required to play. It isn’t about what you are thinking about doing. It is about what you do. During the opening panel there was a discussion surrounding the fluke that Internet celebrity often is, and it was pointed out that everyone on the panel actually did the “stupid shit” that everyone always talks about doing. You can’t win if you aren’t in the game.

And yet, there must be something more. Something beyond “stupid shit” – there is, my friend, there is. It involves a willingness to play by other peoples’ rules. Most brands, in all honestly, aren’t willing to play in the sandbox with the other kids. Other kids smell funny and don’t care that we have color corrected that video for like, hours and hours. Brands need to be respectful and understand the space they are in. As Ben, from Barbarian Group, brought up during the marketers panel, if a brand aims to hold someone’s attention online for a minute, their competition for that minute isn’t their traditional “competitive set” but every single other thing on the internet that people could be doing with that minute. In order to meet this demand brands will need to focus on collaborations. Brands, like people, should have a lot of friends. Play in the same sandbox people. Make nice.

Lastly, as I sat in the panels, I sank a little lower in my seat every time I heard the people talk about how they were doing whatever they were doing because they just loved doing it. Could these people smell the stink of advertising on me? Would the suit I was wearing under my skinny jeans and artfully deconstructed t-shirt be noticed? And then I exhaled; I realized that there is room in this equation for brands that are passionate about what they do. We talk about authenticity, and I think it makes us, collectively nervous. What does authenticity even mean? I don’t know that I have an answer to that one, but I have come to believe that if brands focus on people they will naturally be authentic. The people that built their company, the people that use their products – if they think about themselves as having human attributes and can talk about themselves in a human way, they won’t have to force it. Lets just all start by being a little more human.


Charles Edward Frith said...

Great question. Here's a stab at it. Authenticity is being a little bit more interested in others than in yourself. The ability to empathize outside the wealth creation environment (doing good things without making money), being helpful, making mistakes and admitting them and lastly 'to thine own self be true'

Naturally there's lots more.

Anonymous said...

your post moved me to my own blog entry about authenticity. i'd also like to throw in my two cents to the last bit (about authenticity).

i think the thing with authenticity is that it isn't something that we can instruct a brand, a client, a person to be. it is something that must be held on to. once lost, it is very hard to get back. BUT...everybody starts off with their very own self.

salina said...

Conner, good post. Except you used "take-aways" MADE UP WORD...that's the real thing that outs ad people. All our made up words.

1. Thank you for bringing up immediacy. I am sick of being immediate. Yeah I like my piping hot coffee STAT just like the next guy, but some stuff just shouldn't be nownownow. Like thinking. I think business, conversation, and relationships would be well-suited with a little slow food movement infusion.

2. There's an interesting tension between the success of brands that act like people and the increasingly microscopic evaluation of success metrics in business. Nipping and tucking sourcing, store architecture, promotions that push buttons...being human means leaving some things open to the impression others can make, and that's counter to the business focus. How can those two things co-exist? Cause their lands are drifting together, and it'll be an issue that successful agencies will have to deal with.