Monday, January 08, 2007

Parallel Universe

There’s a change in the air. Can you feel it?

This week, President Bush is expected to announce his new strategy to achieve success in Iraq. Most are expecting him to announce a surge of new troops. The new Democrat majority in Congress has already expressed their opposition to such a move. Meanwhile, Bush has already replaced his generals in the region.

What does any of this have to do with advertising, you wonder? I’d like to take a moment to explain.

History is strange and funny in the way seemingly unrelated subjects and events seem, nevertheless, to parallel each other. Marketing is often viewed as analogous to warfare, and we can look back in history and see parallels between the two.

For example, historians have compared the build-up and organization of the military prior to World War II with the build-up and organizational changes that took place in industry at that time and gave rise to our present system of brand management.

Massive bombing, called “carpet-bombing”, which occurred in Vietnam during the 1960s can be compared to the barrage of tv commercials in broadcast media that occurred during the same period. Carpet bombing as a military strategy gave way to “smart bombs” used during the Gulf War. (Remember those images on tv as you followed the path of a smart bomb right to the point of its impact with a targeted building?) Wasn’t it about this time that the term “narrowcasting” came to describe the strategy of targeting advertising more precisely through cable versus broadcast?

In the present war in Iraq, the military has embarked on new strategies. Smaller U.S. forces go in and train a proxy army, the Iraqis, to fight for them. As a result, U.S. casualties are much lower compared with previous wars, but there is also less control and slower-than-expected progress. Compare that military strategy with new marketing strategies using product placement, viral videos, and especially word-of-mouth, where marketers solicit brand ambassadors to spread their marketing message for them. Are you seeing the similarities?

Also, compare the partisanship between Democrat and Republican to the divide between supporters of “old” media and supporters of “new” media. Are these just coincidences, or are we captives of our Time?

What will be the new strategy for Iraq? How will Democrats and Republicans work together now that there is a Democrat majority in Congress? What will any of this foreshadow for the future of marketing? It will be interesting to watch as history unfolds.


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