We remain ‘evil manipulators’ in 2012 as our impact grows

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Fuck me, that went fast! I can hardly believe that 2011 is already over and yet here we are.

So let me give you a tantalising insight into the months ahead as this new, recession-prone year coughs and splutters its way into existence.

Let’s start with the subject of recession, because that’s the theme for the months and years ahead. By now marketers are aware of the depth of the downturn we are experiencing but many have yet to grasp how long the period of austerity will last. No one is even pretending that we will come out of the economic doldrums in 2012 so the key challenge for marketers will be to continue to adapt to recession as the new norm. A growing band of economy offerings will take hold, contrasting with the continued success of luxury brands. That might sound strange, but in a slump as deep and bitter as this one it will be brands in the middle that take a pounding.

In direct juxtaposition to all this darkness and gloom, London will host a £10bn party. The 30th Olympiad will obviously dominate proceedings this summer but, for marketing minds, the emphasis will be on return on investment for the sponsors in the ever-more expensive global sporting business. And Britain will have to justify its own ROI, as it blows billions from the public purse on two weeks of entertainment. As usual, marketers should remember that ROI is not just about showing the ‘I’ produced an ‘R’. Clearly, £10bn of investment is going to bestow a return in terms of many benefits for the British Isles. The real ROI question is whether that sum could have had a bigger R if it had been invested elsewhere. And that same equation should be applied to corporate sponsors too.

The buzzword that I will try to avoid over the coming year will be SoLoMo. Because marketers love buzzwords, be prepared to be besieged by the term from February onwards. The concept, like most of the hot new things that will happen in 2012, was invented by someone at Google.

Marketers must once again accept that we are the vocational equivalent of the fart in the elevator

To be fair, it does – unlike most marketing buzzwords – actually mean something important: the confluence of social, local and mobile technologies that allow marketers to operate on a new strategic plane. In the US during the Christmas sales, for example, several American brands began to use SoLoMo strategies to lure consumers standing in their competitors’ queues to head across the mall to their store instead.

But it won’t be all plain sailing this year for digital. The big theme for both social media and search in 2012 will be ‘digital bastardisation’. As you may have guessed, that was a term coined by me, not Google. The early years of the web and social media were dominated by people too saintly (Tim Berners-Lee), too straight (Brin and Page) or too strange (Mark Zuckerberg) to manipulate its potential for evil. But the bastards are now well and truly among us.

In my favourite moment to date of the juggernaut that is the US election, which will also occupy our thinking this year, it was revealed by social media firm PeekYou that only 8% of the 1.2 million followers of Newt Gingrich on Twitter were actually human. The rest were carefully created fake personas designed to add weight and legitimacy to Gingrich’s campaign. Evil deeds such as “astroturfing” and “online reputation management” are likely to become more and more of a concern as the year progresses. But one man’s evil is another’s marketing career path. So expect marketers to be held up as the perpetrators of these evil deeds as global awareness of their impact grows.

And that’s bad news for marketers, because we are already in reputational hell. We ended last year in classic foot-shooting territory with our own Chartered Institute recommending we call it a day and merge with sales. And things will not get better in 2012. My most depressing yuletide experience was reading Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography and noting how many times throughout his career Apple’s iconic founder referred to himself as a marketer. He even signed the founding contract for Apple’s creation with the title under his name. And yet when he became iconic how was he described? Entrepreneur? Yes. Innovator? Yes. Visionary? Yes. Marketer? Never. Much like years gone by, marketers must once again accept that we are the vocational equivalent of a fart in an elevator.

And finally there will be the great tussles of capitalism that will occupy us in the year ahead. Who knows which great brands will stumble and which will fall in 2012? The most interesting sector has to be smartphones. Nokia looks incredibly wobbly. Research in Motion and its iconic BlackBerry is also looking poor. And then we have the issue of Apple without Jobs to monitor in the months ahead.

Closer to home is the epic battle now occurring in the British supermarket wars. There are growing whispers that Tesco is a busted flush – Britain’s biggest retailer has a long way to fall if those rumours prove to be true.

Oh yes, dear reader, it’s going to be grim, bloody and painful. See you on the backpage with more good news next week.

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