Lisa Thomas: the group chief executive of M&C Saatchi
Lisa Thomas: the group chief executive of M&C Saatchi
A view from Lisa Thomas

Sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll: welcome to the dark net

It seems Jeremy Lee has - perhaps unwittingly - handed me the pen this week, so I've seized the opportunity to scrawl a few thoughts on that online underworld, the dark net.

As you probably know, alternative web browsers such as Tor allow you to surf the net without your browsing history being tracked or financial actions traced.

I actually didn’t know anything about this stuff until M&C Saatchi’s Breakfast Club with The Dark Net author Jamie Bartlett – but, since then, what has really played on my mind are the ethical and commercial implications for brands.

The majority of "dark" sites are either centred on illegal activity – such as The Silk Road (think Amazon of the drugs market) – or encourage behaviour that consumers feel too awkward to exhibit on open browsers (pro-anorexia and pro-suicide forums are all too common).

When you throw in live webcam sex shows, it seems like a pretty bleak landscape – one "regular" brands definitely couldn’t learn from, let alone dabble in.

However, at the risk of forever tarnishing Jeremy’s column, I’m going to highlight a few aspects that brands might consider.

The people who purchase drugs online are those who will always get their hands on them somehow. The Silk Road is a means of accessing those drugs without hanging around dealers on dodgy street corners – a safer route, you could argue.

Moreover, the obligation on buyers and vendors alike to police the site with detailed product reviews means vendors have to ensure constant social engagement and fantastic customer service.

One South American "fair-trade" drugs brand has gone so far as to reinvest a percentage of its profits in education back in Guatemala – as far as illegality goes, that might just be the purest form of crime I’ve ever heard of, not to mention the sort of smart branding businesses in the legal realm could learn from.

That might just be the purest form of crime I've ever heard of, the sort of smart branding businesses could learn from

When it comes to camgirls, as a mother I’m loath to think that the ease of earning a quick buck on webcam could become a common choice for twentysomethings.

However, these women have total autonomy over the content they’re producing and take all the profits – more than can be said for most workers in the adult entertainment industry.

There’s a certain entrepreneurialism that inspires both admiration and dread.

The fact is that the dark net is growing in popularity – not just for illegal activity but for people sensitive about sharing personal data online.

Facebook copycats are cropping up on Tor, which may eventually attract hordes of consumers; and the question is, if that happens, will/should advertisers follow?

Call it morbid fascination, but I am off to download Tor to see if I can pick up a few tips from the "dark side".

Lisa Thomas is the group chief executive of M&C Saatchi