BY Nick Jankel

Author, Leadership Futurist, Philosopher, Transformation Catalyst

Does anyone remember the Cluetrain Manifesto…. which inspired my first business?

A prescient voice in 1999…

A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed. As a direct result, markets are getting smarter—and getting smarter faster than most companies.

At last we are seeing the powerful reality of the Manifesto in real-time. Peer-to-peer curation, metatagging (enabled by Amazon, Netflix but also Facebook posts, Rotten Tomato, Tweets, Youtube, Yelp etc etc) and production (ebooks, videos, podcasts etc etc). Recent stats indicate that digital natives watch about as much online video as TV (1 hour / day). We have run countless anthropological studies of technology and media consumption. When you live in people’s home watching their actual behaviour around you soon see how radically unfit for purpose the ad revenue model is. Soon to join it will be the bundled pay cable channel model when Roku and its ilk become mainstream. 10 years ago I presented to the Media Planning Group in London some of this in-situ research – you can imagine the horror. Most people in the industry (the consumer goods / media complex) willingly ignore these insights daily as most have no idea what to replace the old model with – or willingness and imagination to explore. But already online ad spending is the same as that on ITV in the UK.

Of course there will be a role for corporate media ‘authoritas’ (particularly amongst older consumers, used to passivity) – but I really don’t think most people in the industry have really understood just how much things are changing, particularly within the new generation who will be tomorrow’s core consumers. It is so intense that my old client – who runs the entire marketing budget for Diageo – has set up a special task force to train brand managers around the world in how to develop earned media properties working directly with ‘citizens’ who have interesting properties on and offline. And of course this removes the middle-men in the ad departments, media buyers, TV companies etc. And this is the largest drinks company in the world. Foresight for them. But when brand managers are measured on how much they create engagement directly with citizens, we know things will change.

Lord Leverhulme (of Unilever fame, 2nd largest consumer goods company) famously said something like ‘Half of all the money we spend on advertising is wasted. We just don’t know which half.’

I’d say that for most brand owners with sense they know that is now 90% and rising. And now there are alternatives. Thus the entire TV model is based on a collusion of media ostriches and lazy marketeers.

For sure consumers will continue ever more to search out content that inspires, enables, empowers and amazes at times they want, weeding out the inauthentic and the manipulative together as a peer group. Anyone who hangs out with teenagers today knows how easily they can smell inauthenticity. They are already doing pretty much all of this themselves without a middle-aged ‘curator’ telling them what is good and wholesome. Brands beware of maintaining any lack of transparency. These kids know, and more than any generation before – they care.

There is an important concept in evolutionary theory by the cybernetician Ashby-Ross called the Law of Requisite Variety

Simply put it means organisms only survive when they reflect the same level (and quality I would add) or complexity as seen in the environment. At some point there will be a tipping point when the peer-empowered, online producer-creator-consumer will become the dominate environment for the media industry. The writing is on the wall and it is unstoppable. Surely its for people like us who are inside and around the industry to help it redesign so it is fit for purpose – and can continue to delight and inform people with amazing, highly-produced content that empowers them as much as they empower themselves.

The same can be said for the publishing industry. Currently their exert a hierarchical arrogance, exploiting authors because they own(ed) the means of production (printing) and the means of distribution (essentially airport stores – apparently over 50% of sales of bestsellers not online). In the age of the kindle, ipad etc, POD (print on demand) and twitter the power returns to the creator / author after 500 years of exploitation. Currently though she is still expected to spend years building a profile to get a publishing deal (worth a few tens of thousands) only to then get 10% of the written word, even though she owns the relationship with her consumers. The model just cannot last. In addition, like other media channels, publishers are more risk-averse that ever and are very happy to not invest in new talent, as they cream from the old. But look at Radiohead, Madonna etc in the music industry. And then EMI.

When the creator can connect with the consumer directly and use that connection to supply the content directly, indeed monopolies burn in flames. Just think about the time Smirnoff or Pepsi realise it can make and distribute quality content, with world-class talent, and serve it up to the consumer…. without paying exorbitant ad rates. Will the digital natives ever want to see in front of the box (vs the laptop or pad) and veg out.. or will they seek out to co-create content with empathic, connected and dare we say humble brands?

What happens to NBC and Random House then?