In 1996, I was a creative director at BBDO working on the M&M’s account. I remember going out to Hackettstown, N.J., and saying we probably needed to create a website. This was seven years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee had created the World Wide Web. As I recall, we found two companies that built sites back then: RedSky and Interactive 8. And rumor had it Adam Curry, a VJ at MTV, was buying up domain names, whatever those were.
A few years later, I was talking to my boss, Charlie Miesmer, and he said he had just spoken to Brian Swette, who took a job at some Internet company where they sell other people’s stuff. “Like a flea market?” I asked. We both shook our heads. EBay? Egads!
A virtual world was being born right before my eyes.
I see many parallels between the world we walk around in and this new world with which we digitally connect. There are spaces for film and audio and posters. Stores, games, conversations, events. Homes and businesses. Loyalty programs, coupons, point of sale, search. Even flea markets.
Today, everything that exists in the real world also lives and breathes on screens. In fact, sometimes I wonder if reality has become the second screen and our virtual world has become the first. I find myself at live events watching people looking down at screens first and the live event second, heads lowered as if in prayer to our devices.
And that is the great disrupter. Most people live in two worlds now, not one. Which means brands, advertisers and marketers have to live in both of these worlds, too.
In a simpler time, great brands aspired to be meaningful in people’s lives. In more complex times, that aspiration is more important than ever. How brands meet that challenge should be guided by the same principles that have always made strong brands and great advertising.
Brands must be authentic, meaningful, respectful, emotional and creative.
If not, they will be seen as intrusive rather than welcomed. That philosophy existed before digital and will continue.
When Leo Burnett, the man, saw a black box called a TV, he predicted that the technology would be the most powerful communication tool the world had ever seen. TV didn’t go on to displace other forms of communication, but it did dominate them. TV’s reign as the most powerful medium has been a long one. But challengers are popping up virtually everywhere.
Is this a bad thing? No, but it can be overwhelming. Which is why it is more important than ever for brands to be disciplined, to know who they are, what they stand for, how they should behave, where they should show up.
In the virtual world, time is not linear. Brands can get caught in the exhaustive trap of filling infinite space with stuff. But our time, in reality, is still finite. We have 24 hours a day. That’s all.
Which makes one question more important than any other: Why is someone going to spend their most valuable resource—time—with your brand?