The Future of Marketing, part two: Web 3.0
The public sphere, our little clown’s autopsy. With marketers so ravenous to calibrate our consumption patterns they actually embed themselves among us– donning tattoos and piercings, or whatever styles their subjects embody– and document our lifestyles. They compile their findings into power-point presentations and sell them to companies that want to tap into consumer spending habits. This relatively new form of guerilla marketing, called “cool hunting”, often targets the youth demographic (whose annual spending is well over $100 billion). It is either an innovative method by which to conduct market research or an impediment to the organic evolution of culture—it depends on who you talk to.
After first reading about cool hunting in ’s No Logo years ago during my intensely liberal Santa Cruz education (full disclosure), I began sending my resume to some of these firms in the hope that they would unwittingly afford a Gonzo-style cynic an inside look at their methods. Only two of them took the bait. A Los Angeles based cool hunting company called Look-Look paid me $150 to photograph examples of green-washing and experiential retail. Another company, The Intelligence Group, supplied me with a real gem: sample pages of The Cassandra Report, their tri-monthly analysis of Gen X/Gen Y lifestyle trends which companies like Verizon, Microsoft, MTV and dozens more subscribe to at the annual cost of $35,000-$50,000.
One of the trends featured in that issue is something called HyperSpace. According to the Cassandra Report: “Everyday objects will become computer interfaces – new opportunities for marketers and brands to embed advertisements and fully understand consumer preferences.” This concept deposits social networking into the real world. People with Internet-ready cell phones will be able to access on-line information about objects and locations in their physical environments by entering codes found there, or by simply scanning them with their phones. Users of this network will be able to tag these objects and locations—clicking on them as if hyperlinks, essentially—and share their latest finds (such as a great new diner!) with friends and people prowling for recommendations.
Pioneering entities, such as Yellow Card, Socialight, and Semapedia.org, are promoting what they consider to be functionalities of Web 3.0. Semapedia.org is a non-profit that wants to “connect the virtual and physical world” by providing cell-phone readable 2D barcodes that people can use to link to wikipedia.org. These barcodes, and “triggers” like them, are already common in Japan and parts of Europe. According to Socialight Co-founder Dan Melinger, HyperSpace represents a “new paradigm for communication, [utilizing] asynchroyonous place-based messaging.” Melinger stresses that the application is opt-in only, and that although the technology will allow mobile carriers to track users’ physical locations down to within a few blocks (using GPS-like systems), guidelines are in place to ensure that their information is kept private.
Will linking objects and locations in our physical environment to on-line networks help to someday purge the public sphere of its marketing mayhem? A profusion of small “triggers” and symbols replacing traditional advertisements could certainly make our Main Streets less audio-visually grotesque. But if the triggers themselves are gateways to brand marketing platforms, anything and everything we see could be imbued with commercial transmissions (similar to how we oblige to watching short ads at the beginning of CNN videos).
Make no mistake, companies will be closely monitoring whether or not we elect to receive these transmissions: Hyperspace will allow marketers to track our clicks in the real world the same way they currently track our links on the Internet. This will forever transform the public sphere. Instead of the old days of navigating through public spaces that contain discrete advertisements, denizens of the Web 3.0 era will live in Web-encoded corporate environments.
The clown’s autopsy will move inside of our heads.