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Anything for a buck

Oct 28, 20024 mins
Enterprise Applications

Last week I was lamenting the “anything goes” sensibility of today’s online marketing.

As evidence, I cited a lewd ad for Lynx body spray that is delivered using technology from a firm called EyeWonder.

Reader Rob Davies wrote: “The Unilever Lynx body spray ad actually plays on U.K. broadcast TV and Satellite channels. The issue here is the Internet erases all country boundaries, and so content is accessible to consumers in a region where the government may have decided that it’s inappropriate for them to see as local content.”

Davies raises the interesting issue of censorship and the ‘Net’s role in circumventing the uncomfortable reality of our elected representatives being able to tell us what we can and cannot read and watch.

And when you think about it, the fact that we (the people) have accepted censorship of television and radio without much more than a mutter it is extraordinary. Try to take away our guns and we are outraged, yet take away our media and we shrug. This says something profound about our perspective and priorities.

It is curious that something as apparently ephemeral as the Internet has emerged as such a profound agent of cultural change. But while that change might appear in the balance to be to the good, the trend of Internet society is apparently toward the lowest common denominator. We are creating an online pop culture that is bigger and more influential than offline pop culture.

Of course, how could it be otherwise? The economics of the ‘Net are such that it is no longer the sole province of the priests of technology or a rich man’s playground. It is open to all and sundry.

The ‘Net connects anyone to anyone who wants to be connected and, because anonymity and the adoption of a new persona is relatively easy, the normal constraints vanish, leaving a social environment where normal standards can be jettisoned without much risk of consequence.

What we’re seeing online is that the social context has changed because pop culture – the culture that defines our society – online is distinctly different from and becoming more influential than its real-world counterpart.

To begin with, ideas online move faster and are not driven by the media as much or in the same way as offline. What was a culture-shaping offline pop meme yesterday is not remembered online as more than a retro echo of fashion, of what used to be cool.

This represents a profound change in the public way opinion is developed in the market. This change is already driving advertisers to rethink their messages and methodologies, which explains the rise of some of the online practices we loathe, such as spamming and pop-ups.

Reader Kale Lowman wrote: “The Internet has gone from 1999-2000 when you could do anything and make a buck, to the 2002 version where you better be willing to ‘do anything’ to make a buck.”

Let me make a prediction here: Over the next year, watch as the use of sex as an online selling tool explodes. There will be a consequent backlash from the conservative side of our society and the potential for reflexive and therefore inappropriate legislation will skyrocket, thus legislation for control of online content will become a hot political issue. And this already is happening. Last week I quoted the CEO of EyeWonder who said: “The Internet allows you to communicate more precisely to a demographic you want to reach without having to worry about Susie, who is 6 years old, seeing it. You can appeal to John, who is 22 . . . with more creative license.”

Reader Andrew Stodart responds, “As an industry, we need to raise our heads from the murky depths of the latest technology and look at what has been created over the last 30 years. Can we really say we have no responsibility to 6-year-old Susie or even 22-year-old John?”

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Mark Gibbs is an author, journalist, and man of mystery. His writing for Network World is widely considered to be vastly underpaid. For more than 30 years, Gibbs has consulted, lectured, and authored numerous articles and books about networking, information technology, and the social and political issues surrounding them. His complete bio can be found at

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