Dodging IT lunatics and Net Luddites

The Internet industry is dead, long live the Internet. That seems to be the message of 2001. Enormous doom and gloom concerning certain high-profile names, but an underlying sense of progress.

In 2000’s frothy environment, the medium was the message – the in-crowd “got it” and the “dinosaurs” didn’t. How silly and antiquated that seems as we exit 2001. This year the Internet started to become the twenty-first century’s electricity: fascinating, revolutionary, exciting, but a utility, not a lifestyle.

I can safely say that 2001 was more interesting than 2000, when disentangling hype from reality was a constant battle. Back then, every man, woman, dog and bored teenager seemed to have a commercial website, PR adviser and claim to millionaire status (on paper, of course).

A good deal of genuinely exciting new companies were created and promoted during 2000, but the marketing story was more compelling in 2001. Jam tomorrow was replaced by experimentation today, as an impressive array of big brands dabbled online: Tetley with its e-coupons, Cadbury with its text messaging, Coke with its Cokeauctions, KitKat with its instant messaging, to name just four high-profile examples.

There were, of course, major frustrations – notably the miniscule home penetration of broadband (high-speed) Internet access. It will take a major new service or innovation to convince most consumers of the need to spend £40-odd a month (plus installation fees) just to connect to the Net.

There was also anxiety about pending EU legislation on opt-in versus opt-out for cookies and e-mail. When it comes to privacy concerns, the UK has always been more laid-back than continental Europe, which tends to confuse governmental abuses of power with relatively harmless corporate behaviour. The good news is that no amount of legislation or EU scaremongering has yet derailed the Internet’s inexorable growth.

Digital marketers would do well to pay as much, if not more, attention to their agencies and IT departments.

As recent Doubleclick research showed, online marketing in France is being seriously hampered by deeply entrenched client-agency relationships. Traditional marketing agencies don’t have an incentive to jettison comfortable profit margins in favour of much slimmer pickings online. Such thinking may be myopic but is a fact of business life in these uncertain economic times. So the onus is on clients to drive their digital marketing strategy.

As for IT-speak, the days of hype and dazzle are truly over. Just as the Internet has become a utility, so the technology behind it must accept a lower profile, enabling rather than bamboozling. Marketers must navigate their way between IT lunacy on the one hand and Luddism on the other.

It seems fitting to end with some comments from Tom Long, president of Coca-Cola UK and Ireland. At a recent MSN-hosted conference, this envoy from the world’s biggest mass advertiser said: “Mass advertising doesn’t work the way it used to. The Internet is more and more important to Coke because it lets us target the right message to the right audience.”

Most pertinently, he added that marketers often fail to see the wood for the trees. “They are impatient for short-term change but astonished when they see how much progress has been made over the long-term.”

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