Millennial Ad-Grad: Lessons from digital activists
by Faheem Chaudhry (@FaheemChaudhry) The new world of marketing, the world that we as the next generation are going to operate in, is one that will be defined by conversation and dialogue — about brands and business, as well as social and economic issues at large. As the next generation, communities built around shared interests and shared values will be at the heart of the way we plan brands.
Shared interests and values are becoming a core characteristic of the young consumer market.
In recent years, the power of online communities has never been more prevalent than in their use of social and digital activism to drive real change in the physical world. Digital activism is now part of youth and popular culture.
As marketers, understanding the fundamental drivers of human behaviour lies at the very core of our discipline. Being fully in tune with the mind-set of young people will ultimately determine our ability to craft and create communication that is the most resonant.
Below are a few examples of powerful digital activism that I believe hold invaluable lessons for marketers learning and building their careers today.
1. From online to real world: The Arab spring
The first time the power of an online community got my attention was when I was travelling through Cairo in 2011. Walking through Tahrir Square, I was little aware of the fact that, a day later, the seemingly quaint, touristy heart of Cairo would be turned into the focal point of the country’s revolution.
Needless to say, 24 hours later I found myself wheeling my suitcase through a crowd half-a-million people strong, waving flags and chanting sentiments of disapproval for the Hosni Mubarak regime.
A Facebook page called ‘‘We are all Khaled Said” was created after the young Egyptian businessman died at the hands of local police. (There is some controversy whether this page was actually created/administrated by 30-year-old Google executive Wael Ghonim, who’d been angered by the continued social oppression of young Egyptians.)
The page gathered some 500 000 members, simply by tapping into a widespread sentiment of government disapproval at the time. Social media became mainstream, as young people fought against the state-controlled traditional media channels.
No evidence is greater in showing the ability of digital activism to be stronger than the power shown by the Egyptian people in 2011. As marketers, the core lesson here is the power of an online community to drive change in the real world.
When people with shared values congregate around a common cause online, the effect they can have on the real world is of a scale and speed like never before. Understanding how to mobilise a key audience online and drive them into real, tangible action in the real world is a powerful skill for anyone in the persuasion game to master.
2. Tapping into global youth psyche: Russell Brand
On the topic of revolution, Russell Brand may have started one a few weeks back after his interview with the BBC’s Andrew Paxman caught the online world’s attention. Brand is fast becoming known for being outspoken on a number of social and economic issues affecting the working class in particular.
The destruction of the environment, income disparity and a small group of politicians working for large corporations were Brand’s biggest complaints, and the reasons he said he refuses to vote. While this was met with both praise and criticism, there’s an interesting lesson here for millennial marketers.
We’re operating in a communication world where thought leadership and opinion around topics of global importance can be spread within a matter of minutes. The implications and effects of this on youth culture and behaviour can’t be overlooked.
Brand tapped into the current feeling of global youth unrest and large scale dissatisfaction. And they watched listened, nodded and shared Brand’s sentiment.
As the next generation of marketers, having our fingers on the digital activism pulse at every moment is critical to us fully understanding the psyche of consumers out there — they can be pulled and persuaded to act within minutes.
3. Potent relevance to market: Anonymous
Perhaps the most successful consistent use of digital activism belongs to the worldwide group known as Anonymous. From its role in Occupy Wall Street to consistently challenging the Church of Scientology, Anonymous is an online group of techies who call themselves ‘‘Hacktivists”.
Rejecting all organisations that it deems to be corrupt and against the best interests of the people, Anonymous successfully rallies hundreds of thousands of people worldwide in an instant, driving them towards protests and disapproval for a wide range of causes.
As marketers, there is a core lesson we can learn from Anonymous. It understands issues that are of potent relevance to people out there. It taps into passion points, of dissatisfaction, and leverage the human truths that underpin them to drive people to mass action.
As marketers, understanding our audiences to this extent, and then giving them the tools to act in the real world, is a powerful way to turn a community of people into a community of loyal advocates. In a world of marketing where conversations are king, knowing how to engage and empower advocates will be a firm competitive advantage.
From message dictation to message discovery
As the communication industry moves on a journey from message dictation to message discovery, there is much marketers may learn from other disciplines of persuasion. Perhaps the most powerful persuasion community in the modern world are those of digital activists, as massive communities are established, engaged and empowered to drive action in an instant.
As the next generation of ad-grads, we’ll need to be constantly plugged into this, analysing, understanding and leveraging the mood of the moment.
Faheem Chaudry (@FaheemChaudhry) is a passionate marketer at M&C Saatchi Abel. With a focus on the future, his aim is to better entrench the importance of creative thinking to solving critical business problems. Faheem contributes the monthly “Millennial Ad-grad” column to MarkLives.
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