Networked_CULTURE and its impact on commercial communication

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aNt agreed, "The web is dead. The internet is where it's at."At first I laughed this off as a semantic joke, but on further reflection I began to see the truth behind the humour. aNt was referring to the thriving, vibrant communities that exist online unhindered by international borders, paternalistic governments and the oppressive blight of commercial messages. These communities are built around various network_APPLICATIONS such as Hotline, Carrachio, IRC and ICQ.

This is where real-time, direct, one-to-one communication, open source knowledge-sharing and collaboration has been happening for years. This is where a new communication_CULTURE is evolving.

"The techniques and practises of non-linear forms of living, thinking, and production are now becoming standard operations with, through, over, under and around the new media."
- Heiko Idensen

Participation in networked_CULTURE changes people fundamentally. The networked_INDIVIDUAL is smarter and better informed than ever before, better equipped to see through empty brand promises and meaningless slogans. Your BRAND strategy has to be smarter if you wish to appeal to the techno-savvy screen_GENERATION.

Participation changes people's expectations. They are better informed because they are talking to each other, they have access to an unlimited supply of FREE information. They form virtual communities around special interests. They talk about their experiences of your brand, both bad and good. If your company takes two weeks to answer an email, people will tell their friends and your promise of "great customer service" will be rendered empty. It is a freeing experience.

People can easily find the truth behind brands and products (health concerns/ environmental issues/ real user experience of products - "is car model x really better than model y?"

People expect real-time, direct, immediate communication that is open and honest. They expect to be able to interact and respond.

You have the ability to exercise your CHOICE to ignore what you don't want to see - one click and the banner ad is gone!
You have added another communication platform to your persona. It is a new voice that can be either separate or a continuum of one. There is a interesting book called "Life on the screen" by S. Turkle, which deals with all kinds of things like people developing different sides of their characters through the different avenues the internet offers. Read the Cluetrain manifesto for more (

With traditional media we have learned to accept marketing strategies that interrupt and exclude our involvement. To expect the same level of acceptance on the Internet is to ignore the way it has revolutionised communication. The Internet brings with it principles of interaction and non-linear information interpretation that are not possible in traditional media. Communication is based on decision, content is delivered by request and messages are interpreted by choice.

"Whether one likes it or not, the net is NOT a commercial playground a priori. It is an open space for ANY communication needs between any people."
- Hans Bernhard (CEO Ubermorgen,

The marketing and advertising techniques and strategies employed in traditional media do not translate to these new communication environments. It is that simple. The networked_CULTURE generation is immune to traditional advertising and marketing, an unsophisticated irritation at worst and an amusingly inept joke at best. It is frightening how many creative and marketing strategies still sound like they have been cut-and-pasted directly from the Dack Web Economy Bullshit Generator

The popularity of the Cluetrain Manifesto (, Adbusters ( and Allyourbrand ( give an insight into how advertising is generally viewed by the network_CULTURE generation. "We're looking for graphic designers who fight consumerism, who have stopped using their talents to further advertising's oppressive monologue and instead create a dialogue between creator and viewer. We're looking for people with a fresh take on design."
- Adbusters Re-Design Contest.

Communicating with the network_CULTURE generation is one of the toughest challenges facing advertisers and marketers. Anybody who connects is part of net.CULTURE to different degrees… from the person who sits too many hours online instead of being with family and friends, to the novice who selectively researches, to the hardcore screen_KID who is connected for more or less every waking hour. The hysteria of the late nineties and Seattle / silicon alley hardness changed the free playpen sensibility to the pre- and post-DOTcom crash flaccidity.

Now, after the fall from grace of all the ridiculous promises, normal development is paced. The impetus coming from small unknown people with big ideas who are defined by a humility, a casualness - a refusal to be totally sold out or sell out - but who choose to support brands not only based on Michael Jordan endorsing them but also by their function. This band questions paradigms and rejects the tired.

Unfortunately, traditional agencies have neither the cultural understanding nor technical know how to communicate in these new non-linear environments. And sadly, most clients do not have the vision or desire to change their own communication strategies, relying instead on what they see as tried and tested formulae.

New media agencies are just as guilty however, re-packaging traditional marketing strategies and inappropriate thinking. The 'brochure site' is a classic example of traditional advertising and marketing thinking inappropriately applied to the Web environment. Sites where interaction is limited to the virtual equivalent of 'turning a page' simply do not excite people who expect so much more. They are a permanent monument to the fact that you don't get it, despite what your payoff line says.

Unfortunately 'interactivity' is often used as little more than decoration (or "showing off" as Tom Roope described it in the first issue of Design Indaba magazine). Thankfully, the era of the ubiquitous cinematic 'Flash intro' (and various other pointless effects of input devices on screen elements) seems to be coming to an end.

So, how can brands go about effectively communicating to the networked_CULTURE generation?

Communication strategies must tap into the collective conscience of the networked_CULTURE generation. A BRAND must captivate and intrigue. This requires a new and smarter kind of 'storytelling'. Traditional interruptive linear brand narratives do not work in this environment. Online brands must be agile and flexible. The ability to rapidly evolve and grow in fluid communication environments is essential.

Another key to the building of successful digital_BRANDS is the creation of participant feedback loops to encourage high user involvement and interaction.

Ultimately the solution lies in generating great IDEAS based on the principles that form the foundation of network_CULTURE.

At type01 we define these principles as: +++ Now Culture™! - live it //
It is happening now, all around you. While you are planning your online marketing strategy 6 months in advance, your target audience is changing their preferences, their habits and their net_USAGE patterns on an hourly basis. We live in this world, you are watching from a distance. Participate.

+++ Living, Real Time Communication //
Net_APPLICATIONS have enabled instant, direct and organic communication. We do not accept having to wait for automated email replies and computerized hold messages. We want access to real people with real time communication.

+++ Dialogue//
In decentralised networks no participant is necessarily more important or powerful than another. Networked_COMPANIES must facilitate real conversation, not hide behind traditional corporate marketing messages. It is only those brands that allow an open dialogue that succeed, and only those that participate in the conversation that last.

+++ Open Source//
An IDEA has more value when it is shared, explored and refined. Exchange, sharing & collaboration leads to the establishment of relationships and respect between networked_INDIVIDUALS and corporations, fosters community and produces the most interesting work. Brands must learn to be OPEN if they wish to survive in the networked_CULTURE age. You can't hide anything on the net. Don't be afraid, participate!

+++ Choice//
The Internet and the evolution of networked_CULTURE has given individuals the power to build and destroy brands. Resistance is futile. Embrace the chaos!

You have to be immersed in this culture to be able to speak its language. Design, programming and interaction design should all be well-crafted and thoughtful executions of great IDEAS, not ends in themselves.

Digital Brand Cult[ure]; Intellectual property and the application of intellectual know-how is rapidly becoming the currency of the networked_CULTURE age. An IDEA today is the digital_BRAND of tomorrow. The rapid growth of digital brands is simply the embodiment of the popularity of good IDEAS in a networked_WORLD.
IDEAS self-propagate and spread like MEMES. Sophisticated, appropriate and compelling advertising concepts can be attached to these IDEAS, provoking and facilitating active user involvement, which ultimately leads to effective branding and marketing communication.

The investment in IDEAS pays its returns in cultural_CAPITAL and credibility, powerful and valuable assets in the networked_CULTURE age. However, credibility is a fragile commodity when your BRAND is exposed to open.source_CULTURE.

Habbo Hotel (, MU-MU™ (, One(1).CYCLE.OCCUR™ (, the alt.sense Photo Album ( and ( are all good examples of networked_IDEAS.

The age of networked_CULTURE has also heralded other interesting new possibilities. The line between what's real and what's not, between conceptual art and radical business model has become increasingly blurred as both artists and businesses strive to explore and exploit the new communication environments.
Great example of IDEAS that play on and subvert traditional notions of business and art are:
etoy VS. eToys (; dubbed the "Most expensive performance in art history", causing $4.5 billion in damage to (and eventually forcing its closure), who attempted an aggressive domain take-over of an avante-garde art organisation.

[V]ote-auction ( ; "Bringing Capitalism and Democracy Closer Together." This site is devoted to combining the American principles of democracy and capitalism by bringing the big money of campaigns directly to the voting public. They provide a forum for campaign contributors and voters to come together for a free-market exchange of their votes in the US general election. Described as "LEGAL BUSINESS ART" and "MEDIA HACKING", this concept is currently being exhibited in Museums around the world. [V] is also currently fighting many legal cases brought against them by several of the united states.

Looking at the wide variety of sites on the web, from the plethora of gratuitous personal sites (especially designers' sites!) who proclaim their own brand of humourless "world domination", to the Great Corporate sites, there is very little fresh thought or contribution to the overall shared culture.

Current attempts are nothing more than a crude competitive race for personal or business gain. Businesses have yet to make the next great brave leap into truly engaging with their markets.

The real development happens quietly between networked_INDIVIDUALS communicating freely, where growth is organic and never forced. This growth is based on a global consciousness rather than a derivative, linear methodology of corporate origin. This communication forms the basis of networked_CULTURE.

Still not convinced? You could always try Brainmaker (

Damian Stephens is Creative Director of type01 in Cape Town, South Africa. type01 is a brand development company specialising in digital solutions for the networked_CULTURE age. Fully active in the field of design and new media, he is passionate about developing true interactivity through digital design.

Acknowledgements: Everyone at type01, spo0ky, GSM, aNt and [net_CALLBOY h_e hans_extrem illegal ETOi.HANS]

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