These Totems are Made of Human Flesh -
Somehow, time is now faster than it ever has before. No, this isn’t some kind of cliché truism from an estranged uncle’s Facebook nor is it pure opinion; it is observable everywhere and without much effort. The techno-cultural landscape of 2019, filled with machine learning, AI voice emulators, and deepfakes is lightyears away from 2009’s preoccupations with the budding app industry, smartphones, and the initial rise of Twitter’s text-based social media model. The past decade has shifted culture much more than 10 years would suggest — when understood through an older, more date sense of time, perhaps better defined as a 20th century time sensibility.
Years go by faster and are filled with more content. Careers start younger and die quicker, as evidenced by the hordes of tween influencers who reach the apexes of their success in a quick handful of years years, making much more money than someone working a traditional career would over the same period of time, and then just as quickly falling back into irrelevance before their hormones have even settled into maturity (and so, a spot opens for the next young microstar). In a way, it no longer seems wise or even particularly viable to keep trying at something throughout a lifespan banking on the hope of later success; careers are now quite literally memes, or more accurately have the lifespan of a meme.
Even generations don’t seem to obey the same rules of time as they once did before. Though they are typically labeled as a singular group, Generation Y, better known by their ad nauseam repeated alias “millennials”, are not at all a cohesive unit. Spanning those born in the early 80s through the mid 1990s, Generation Y seem to possess at least three different sub-groups, each divided by the degree to which their lives were immersed within our digitally-networked culture.
In their mid to late 30s today, the oldest members of Gen Y fully remember a mostly analog world, having been witness to the paradigm shift of digitization with lucidity, and by proxy had to relearn how to navigate the new world with appropriate baby steps as this new cultural explosion evolved in front of them. They had their fun in the world of old and now navigating the new one more proficiently than their baby boomer parents.
On the opposite side of the spectrum, the youngest members of Gen Y (hovering their early 20s today) are fully attuned to the waves of digital culture and have always been, likely possessing little to no recollection of their pre-internet childhood days. They dived (or perhaps more accurately — were pushed) head-first into digital culture as their mental capacities were still in early stages of development, just like those in Gen Z and in the next generation(s) to follow.
Mid-range members of Generation Y are perhaps the most peculiar of the group. Now in their late 20s, their formative adolescent years occurred during a transitional phase when the world still had one foot planted sturdily on the analog while the other lightly trod the waters of the digital side. Though undoubtedly fluent in the nuances of today’s culture, their taste of a pre-digitized society almost manifests itself like an itch needing to be scratched but forever out of reach, nostalgic for something that merely grazed their shoulder, but such contact was made at a time of great importance in their lives.
Is this of relevance to you? Perhaps not, though to prideful executives toiling at major corporations, this is a matter of life or death. In most Western countries, Gen Y are one of the largest population groups and in many cases the de facto largest (though Gen Z are hot on their heels), and by proxy are one of the largest consumer bases needed to be marketed towards for most businesses, both old and new.
But my dear biz execs, how do you appeal to a group that in itself isn’t cohesive, with each subgroup possessing little in common besides their shared cynicism for the popular marketing tactics of the past?
Businesses must, and in most cases are, adapting (the ones still around, that is). Unable to reach Gen Y through old tactics? Why not attempt to infiltrate yourself among their ranks, like in the absurdly obnoxious but worryingly effective antics of Wendy’s ™ Twitter account, spewing calculated memetic language and “burning” other competitors on the Twittersphere as if they were just another twenty-something-year-old pal on your timeline.
The success story of Wendy’s ™ Twitter has spawned a massive horde of playfully un-corporate corporate Twitter accounts from every massive company, each fine-tuned by algorithms and intense marketing research to attract a certain sect of under-35s of the world. And their attempts to put a human mask on their faceless corporate entity often work, with retweets and reposts appearing out of nothingness, like maggots devouring a festering wound.
Of course, attempts by corporations to emulate human-ness aren’t without spectacular failures, with one of the most recent being Amazon’s employment of transparently fake “brand ambassadors” on Twitter, robotically tweeting about how amazing their jobs are, despite working for a company notorious for their haphazard treatment of their employees. The climax of it all came when a certain ambassador by the name of @AmazonFCRafael tweeted about bringing their grandkids to work, despite carelessly sporting an avatar of a boy in his 20s hanging out in Manhattan’s Midtown. Ouch.
Successful or not, these adaptations indicate that a marketing skin is being shed: Cultural totem poles of the past are being abandoned in favor of covert human emulation and infiltration. As older generations dwindle in numbers, we will say goodbye to commercials stuffed to the brim with holiday jingles and cheap iconography, both now useless tactics of coercion. No new company avatars slinging too-good-to-be-true promises about their products, like the GEICO gecko or Tony the Tiger, will come to be.
False idols of commercial past cannot survive in a compressed time-scape where imagery has lost any sense of eternity or immortality, and no longer has nearly as much inherent swaying power as it once did in the past. The best way to effectively sell products to a fragmented mass of (correctly) cynical young consumers is to quite literally become one of them, all while maintaining the covertness of your infiltration by keeping a keen eye on the rapidly shifting tides of memetic online culture. At least, this is the best solution that has been concocted for the time being.
Goodbye Santa and hello @BelievableCorporateFriend.