The Loch Ness Monster test
A view from Sue Unerman

The Loch Ness Monster test

It's an increasing problem for media practitioners: how do we tell the difference between new technologies/brands/products/platforms that are short-term fads and those that will establish themselves as long-term staples of our lifestyles and cultures?

To help us all do this, I propose the Loch Ness Monster test.

On 2 May 1933, Alex Campbell, a part-time journalist for The Inverness Courier, coined the term "Loch Ness Monster".

A flurry of stories followed, a first photograph was published in December of that year and coverage of sightings of the creature has been ebbing and flowing ever since – most recently when Google used Street View to allow us all to have a good look for proof of its existence (sort of, anyway) in April.

You can of course follow the Loch Ness Monster on Twitter: @realnessie (he or she must have a waterproof Sony Xperia; an iPhone would never last in the biggest and second-deepest loch in Scotland).

So how does Nessie help us sort the technological breakthroughs that will last from the short-term wonders?

I firmly believe that the successful application of technology is dependent on it tapping into a fundamental human need that does not and has not changed. Media Week celebrated 30 years last week with the first print edition for years. It made me reflect that, during my career, there have been loads of change and lots of innovation that consumers have adopted. Yet their needs, desires, wants and emotions are unchanging. The very clever tech and media developments feed on them and thrive because of it.

Clearly, the Loch Ness Monster story has survived so long because it too feeds into our needs, desires, wants and emotions. So we can use it as a benchmark to test how well new tech and media would do. My hypothesis is that, if we can imagine a particular medium or tech being a key player in the spread of Nessie stories if it had been around 82 years ago, then it’s probably going to thrive and survive.

To illustrate what I mean, let’s take one example that has established itself at the heart of many of our lives. According to my theory, it should pass the Nessie test. And it doesn’t take more than a moment to realise that it does – with flying colours.

Twitter, of course, taps into our enormous human drive to show each other things that we find interesting and share our humour, disappointments and delight with our connections.

Nessie news has been delighting us since the 30s. I can clearly remember as a child the excitement in the mid-70s when a life-size model of a seductive Nessie (with giant feminine eyelashes obviously made to flutter) was launched into the loch with the intention of luring the monster to the surface.

Whether it's 82 years ago or now, news of a genuine Nessie sighting would spread like wildfire on Twitter.

Does the fact that no recent pictures of Nessie or the Abominable Snowman or Big Foot have reached my Twitter feed means I should stop believing? Does the instant nature of communication about "what’s happening" take the longevity and magic out of the cryptids? Not in the slightest. 

Sue Unerman is the chief strategy officer at MediaCom