There is a legend that the first rifles which fell into the hands of native Americans in the Old West were used as clubs.
The Indians knew that the “sticks which speak” were potent tools, with a magic which was capable of dealing death even at a great distance. But, not understanding the white man’s magic, they fell to using the butt end of the rifles as primitive clubs in the hope that the arcane magic of the gun could be invoked in whatever way it was wielded.
Thus they exchanged their war bows for even more primitive weapons, utterly unsuited to the purpose to which they were being put.
What is the point of this excursion into the history of the Old West? Just this: the story is a fitting parable to the way the Internet is currently being used as a marketing and communications tool by many in the business world.
My involvement in judging the New Media Age Effectiveness awards, made last Thursday, gave me an opportunity to review the best work currently being carried out in the UK (see opposite).
The best is excellent, although sadly some of it is still being done in the US, and these sites are few and far between. There are still too many sites which leave you wondering who was the intended audience and why they chose the Web to communicate with them.
The Internet is a new and potent weapon. Yet this highly efficient and powerful tool is being wielded by many marketing professionals like a primitive club. They are not using its interactivity or its precision. As a result, they complain that it is less effective than their “traditional” media options – just as the native Americans found the plainsmen’s rifles less effective than the bows they had previously used.
This is hardly a surprise to serious observers of the medium, who have watched cyberspace become colonised with a series of “knee-jerk” Websites – set up for no other reason than “our competitors have got one so we need one too”.
Companies, which know much better than to spend a single penny on a TV or press campaign without a carefully thought-out strategy, have poured tens of thousands (sometimes hundreds of thousands) of pounds into Websites with no brief and no clear understanding of what they want to achieve.
The response that the site is “experimental” is simply not good enough. That’s the native American approach to technology – they didn’t know how it worked, but they used it anyway, in the hope that the “magic” would be invoked simply by using it.
There is no magic. It’s really quite simple. Advertisers must learn the essential characteristics of the medium as a communications channel; decide how to leverage those characteristics for their products and services; and set up procedures which will allow them to monitor and analyse their results.
Those companies which have done this may have experienced the initial shock of the recoil as the bullet left the gun – followed by the glow of pleasure as their first cowboy hit the dust.