Is the internet ‘broken’?

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Speaking at the IAB Engage conference in London this week, social psychologist Dr Aleks Krotoski said that brands and marketers have “broken the internet.”

Broken, in the sense that increasing levels of brand-related content are “undermining the true ethos of what the web was supposed to be,” when the likes of Tim Berners-Lee invented it.

Her view is that brands need to let consumers find them by a process of information discovery, in the way the founders of the web intended it to be.

All very well saying that we need to find stuff by accident, but the web as it is today allows us to find things in a Google Instant.

And that’s a good thing, right?

Dr Krotoski says in allowing consumers to find stuff for themselves, this does create a far stronger bond with the brand.

This is true, but what about convenience?

I am a far happier person because I no longer have to go to the supermarket to get my groceries (thanks Ocado); I can find the clothes online I want in my (usually sold out) size and don’t have to go on expeditions around the city to find them, and I can get them delivered the next day.

There are a whole heap of examples I could list where easy-to-access online channels are helping consumers save time and money, as well as helping communities in more socially-conscious ways, through bringing together users with information and services.

I did not find these brands and services online “by chance.” I was informed of their existence through on and offline marketing, PR and word of mouth.

However, like Dr Krotoski, I too am someone who loves the randomness of the internet.

Searching for something on the web and then being sent off in a completely different place is why I love the internet. Being able to go in and type “1983 Christmas number one”* and get the answer up straight away is the best thing in the world.

But there are lots of people that need a bit of guidance – whether searching for info or finding brands.

How many times has someone asked a question in your office, where you have answered “Just Google it”?

It’s not just less-savvy consumers who don’t know certain brands and services are available online.

I know of one very senior communications person who couldn’t find the press office details for a major airline on the brand’s website, only to be very frustrated when a friend found it easily by just Googling around.

For people like this, brands need to point them in the right direction and tell people where they are and which platforms they can engage with them on.

And if brands want to tell me things about themselves as I go through my web journey, and ask if I want to buy this or that, then that’s okay with me too.

Dr Krotoski doesn’t hate the internet, but I think she’s coming at it from the view that brands are constantly bombarding people with messages they don’t want.

The fact is, and this was evident from many of the brands at the recent Engage 2010 conference, digital marketers are getting very savvy and very aware of only offering content – advertising or otherwise – that is relevant and in realtime.

As Richard Eyre, chairman of the IAB put it: “Why do I want to see ads for what I was searching for yesterday?”

I don’t believe brands and marketers have “broken” the internet. Like many pieces of technology in the last 20 years, it has evolved, grown, got bigger and brands and marketers have been constantly trying to keep up with the new opportunities it brings.

The vibe from Engage 2010 this year was that we are now in a very dynamic space where creativity, online media buyers and technology can work together to give consumers not just “advertising” but ad-related content which they will….dare I say…like and enjoy.

At IAB Engage this year, Old Spice man still made people laugh. The Olympics ’Moms’ ad Roisin Donnelly from P&G showed made us well up. The enormity of Skittles’ Facebook presence made people gasp in wonder.

Social media is creating emotive connections with brands, which used in a responsible way, can create rewarding and long lasting consumer relationships.

And then everyone online – brands and consumers – can have a Tim Berners-Lee influenced group hug.

*The Flying Pickets, “Only You”, by the way.

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