Generation why?

Controlling communications used to mean controlling the agenda until digital changed all that and super-connected citizens are dictating things

If we could travel back in time to the court of Henry VIII, the people most in fear of their lives (other than his wives and cardinals) were those involved in the publishing and distribution of books and pamphlets.

The radical new technology of the printing press was seen as an incredibly dangerous tool by the ruling classes - the nobility and the church. It permitted the circulation of new ideas on a scale that had never been seen before.

The ability to control the means of communication was then, and still is today, one of the most salient ways of getting and keeping hold of power.

And, as time moved on, innovations in communications led to new ways of influencing people's thoughts, ideas and behaviour.

On the one hand, we've had an election entirely swung by the bravura performance of a politician on a live TV debate. On the other, we've had a situation in Rwanda where the genocide of hundreds of thousands of people was sparked and fed by the voice of Radio Mille Collines. No wonder that, when you hear about military coups around the world, the first thing the army does is take over the radio and the TV stations.

Controlling the comms meant controlling the agenda. Until digital came along and changed everything. The point is not so much about how technology itself is changing; it's about how people are using it to their own ends that matters. No one knew when Twitter first came to light that it would come of age on the global stage as a means of defying the Iranian government.

If a record industry mogul told you five years ago that the Christmas number one would be a year-old track marketed from the bedroom of a faceless couple in Essex with zero media spend, you'd think he was mad. Rage against the music machine ... The ability to create and distribute content, to communicate and organise quickly, cheaply and without boundaries or regulations has changed social paradigms irrevocably.

The old axes of power - from governments, to corporations, to class divisions, to religion, to expected ways of thinking and behaving - are being blown away by an ever growing, highly vocal, highly empowered class of super-connected citizens making demands via mass grassroots activism and total transparency. They have the power to effect change. Really quickly. And the question on their mind is not "what do you have to say to me?" but "what can you do for me?"

And so to the cosy world of marketing, where a vast industry has spawned, interrupting people's daily lives with messages about what they need to buy, to think or to feel.

Campaigns of influence, set around a timeline that is dictated by the available spend, desperately trying to set the agenda for any chosen "target audience".

It's not that people are switching off from marketing, it's that they are taking it into their own hands. Super-connected citizens dictate the agenda, they don't follow it. And they don't necessarily care what it is you want to say, Mr Marketing Guy.

Sustainability as a nice to have? Not for much longer. Punitive fees? Not on my watch. Great ad but poor product? They'll have you for breakfast. And to gain influence, you can forget brand-led "campaigns". They may have worked then, but they're much less likely to work going forward. The losers will be many.

The winners will be the ones who are ready to move fast, who listen to and learn from their customers in real-time, who place innovation at the heart of what they do, and who are thinking first and foremost about ideas that bring utility that actually makes a difference ...

Marketing departments, which for quite a few years now have been reduced to advertising teams worrying about the "big idea", will have to go back to really catering to their consumers' needs.

New product development will be firmly back on the agenda, and it will need to involve the technology team. Everything will be connected, in every sense of the word, as the internet of things joins the internet of people and of places.

There will always be a place for storytelling, but this skill will need to sit alongside the teams that are actually creating the stories to tell, and will need to evolve to be able to spark and then manage conversations, rather than just spark them.

And a new breed of agency will emerge, one that is catered to helping clients manage this change. A lot of the skills will be unchanged. Understanding consumers. Understanding the opportunity. But the output won't be communications in the first instance. It will be digital product.

Don't just inspire people to be better sportsmen and women. Help them, digitally. Pharma companies can now deliver tools and platforms that help manage disease through the intelligent use of data and community, rather than just marketing the drug.

Car manufacturers reimagining the digital dashboard. Text book publishers delivering multimedia, multi- social solutions that will change the way people study for ever. Retailers redefining loyalty by mashing up offers, peer recommendations and a customer's physical location.

It's not the future. It's all happening right now, in real time.

Where do you see yourself in five years' time?

TAKE-OUTS

- Consumers no longer ask "What do you have to say to me?" but "What can you do for me?"

- The successful agency will listen and learn in real-time

- Digital product will emerge as the output - placing technology at the core to create innovative tools that make a tangible difference to consumers' lives.

- Jim Moffatt is the managing director and James Temple is the executive creative director at R/GA London

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