Man the dashboard! Raise the Salesforce® flag! Load the Hubspot® and fire the emails! Didn’t hit your mark? Move the analytics point-of-aim several degrees to the north!
What are we doing?
We’ve reduced each other to numbers on an ever-growing list of hip new marketing platforms and measuring devices. Sure it works, but for how long? People seem to be growing more and more resistant to ads, weary of pitches and angry at their YouTube screens. “NO I’m not paying for YouTube Red, STOP ASKING ME!” Sound familiar? Rats in a maze, paywalls aplenty. Get the cheese at the end… the maze is super-simple: just pay us.
“Oh look at the cute baby! Swipe. Ugh, no I don’t want to pay for another mocha-latte-monthly-mix-a-fucking-box subscription like it’s a cell phone bill for fun. Swipe. My friends are having so much fun. Swipe. I have never googled ‘blood oranges’ in my life… but I did mention it to my wife with good-old-fashioned human-to-human spoken words about how delicious that blood orange infused spa water was… so how am I seeing Facebook ads for Blood Orange Delight scented Fawheeze Air Freshener?!”
It’s like one of those cliché arguments about Orwell vs Huxley except both were simultaneously right, yet both now look conservative by today’s measure
There’s a certain point where it gets downright creepy. There’s another point where you realize from the loneliness of your office cubicle or the glow of your face in bed when you should be sleeping — that digital escapism is some sick soap opera you peek at impulsively eight thousand times a day, thinking it’s private while companies you’ve never met learn more about you than your own mother. It’s manufactured dreams sold to you from the comfort of your own prison cell.
Consumer culture has reached incredible heights, and it’s not built on toothpicks either. Across every industry, the companies who know the most about their consumers can deliver products engineered towards their fancy, services and content that are more addictive than cigarettes, a better vacation, a prettier girl, a more sculpted man and a more superior experience. We’re treating people like numbers and unfortunately the mass majority of people love it. Unfortunately, some people love alcohol, heroin and texting-while-driving as well… until it kills them.
In this regard, perhaps Huxley is right… what we love is killing us. But how? The very data we’re arguing against collecting shows the very thing we’re arguing for… loneliness is epidemic, failed expectations are halfway experienced through someone else’s window and our indoctrination into time-indentured marketing servitude is overrunning the very thing we arguably need most… the human-to-human connection all these platforms claimed to increase, not decrease.
So, is what we love really killing us? Or have we sickeningly come to love what’s killing our collective human spirit? In this way, Orwell gains some ground back. We love (hit the like button) other people’s projected images of their lives (read: narcissism), ignore the downsides they keep hidden behind the shell of this perfect projection (read again: narcissism) and yet are afraid to say the wrong thing (self-governing censorship based in fear that our own online perfected image might be shattered) at the peril of sometimes real litigation and court cases (last time I checked, freedom of speech shouldn’t be up for debate… you have the right to say controversial things, not the right to not be offended by them).
In this way, Huxley and Orwell have had a strange baby, and I’m going to coin a new term to describe it: political correctiveness. Yes, the term “politically correct” has lost its meaning because it refers to what is now (and has long been) a moving target. The term itself is now a non sequitur because something can’t be correct if what “correctness” is… is always moving. It started to become clear that the moving target is being moved by someone and it’s not just what the collective agrees on. It’s marketing data weaponized to constantly move the target in a way that always leave you feeling lacking or fearful of social rejection. You have to love the right things and avoid believing the wrong things or ::gasp:: you’ll be rejected by a crowd drifting through an unmitigated sea of information like a rickety lifeboat without an anchor.
From a human psychology perspective, the precision and exactness of this sway of collective reasoning starts to look like a duck… and if it looks like a duck… you get it. In real psychological terms, this grander scale of identity politics aims to accomplish the same deed that professional manipulators (read again: narcissists, sociopaths and machiavellians) aim to accomplish: the dismembering of your personal identity.
SO, LET’S ROPE BACK AROUND TO MARKETING AGAIN.
What does all of this have to do with marketing? Well, as a professional marketer I believe it’s my job to recognize trends because, well, trends are the new rickety lifeboat of a shattered personal identity that the technologically-steroid-jacked online marketplace has replaced true anchored psychological identities with. I hate it, and yet here I am, unable to look away from the gory pile of gibs the human condition is left in when it’s so easily destroyed by the need for a connection that seems constantly just out of our grasp.
I’d be falsely trying to cover up my dreams of becoming a superhero like I loved in the comics I used to read as a kid if I didn’t admit that I want to be a bitxt of a freedom fighter. I believe there is a singularity (pun intended) of the human spirit that will have to fight the singularity of manufactured silicon-based connectedness which sees the feral beauty of uncontrolled human expressiveness harnessed with a choke-chain of wires and market-driven emotional posturing for telling the shadowy emperors of social commentary they’re naked.
I want people to fight it. I pray (gasp!) that people fight it. I want controversy and I want the gloves off and I want the shame of dissenting ideas to vaporize. In my mind, controversy and unabashed abrasiveness is the last bastion of individuals who have strongly grounded personal identities. I don’t judge people for having differing identities… I judge them for having differential identities. I want to market in a way that reaches the human spirit, not in a way which reduced that human spirit to numbers and cents in a database housed by an impenetrable fortress of corporate magnitude.
I want to sell things that solve problems, no preserve them. I want to tell stories that stir up people’s emotions and get them fighting in the streets… because it’s better than warring in the streets from years of suppressed opinions. I want to sell experiences that I know will get people to throw away their phones and put their arms around each other because part of my soul hopes this digital isolation will be destroyed by the immutable human need to have real connection, not a digital façade of what we used to know before devices replaced our eyes and ears and noses and hearts and skin.
Yet here I am writing this in a digital blog, not screaming it from a pulpit… because the pulpit has turned into social media platforms… and those are censored by their respective owners so the government or roaring masses don’t hunt them down with tax penalties and pitchforks.
It’s a real battle here… marketing can get more analytical or it can become human again. I hope you’re a marketing professional yourself who longs for more human connection, and who will try to create connections not just customers. I want to become this, and I think more people need to want to become this or our human condition will become less human. It already has.
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Signing off, wishing people gathered around a fire more than a trendy post.