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Beyond Branding is written by members of The Medinge Group

The Beyond Branding blog

August 19, 2003

Flashers...corporate hippies? 

Last week, the Daily Mail - bastion of reactionary conservatism - organised a very concerted flash mob attempt, using 'underground' techniques to persuade 120 people to arrive with umbrellas at the London Eye, peel a banana and chant for a minute before disappearing.

This was, in some microscopic and atavistic way, a 'happening'.

The mechanism of flash mobs - using texting, on-line advertising and community-based networking to bring together groups of people for brief encounters - is tedious. It intrigues me far less than the motivation behind it.

What flash mobs indicate today seems to me to be a latent experimentalism, but also a leadership vacuum. They evince a desire to play with ideas, a need to be 'on the edge', and a dislike or avoidance of authority.

On the surface, this is reminiscent of the ethos of the late 1960s. Mass affluence. Ethical confusion. Amoral war. Political dilution. Eroding trust.

Not so different now, you say.

But in the 1960s these Weatherman-style occurences would have arisen from discontent, from agressive apathy, or from socialist political motivations - or at the very least from some collective purpose and common will.

The Daily Mail's motivation, by contrast sales.

Nonetheless, I wonder how many Daily Mail 'flashers' felt betrayed when they discovered who was behind the event. Probably very, very, few......

And thereby lies the conundrum of the new Millennium. Although many people reject corporate incursion into their lives, it has become pervasive to the extent of invisibility. We have embraced corporatism, whether we like it or not.

What we are witnessing here is a new unreality in which corporate and personal promotional techniques and mind-sets have simply fused. The internet was a personal communications vehicle; became corporate, then commercial; and was then briefly reclaimed by the people, when the VCs ran out of road.

Now, in the last 2 years, the powers that 'be' (by which I mean merely 'act') have attempted to reclaim the medium by appropriating the very notion of community. Even our tools of communications are shared with the corporates. or put another way, coprorate marketing tools as available to all. We all share the same brand imagination. We are all marketers now.

This amounts to more that simply becoming spin-savvy or marketing savvy. We are now exposed to the minutiae of the very mechanisms of marketing. We are not juts savvy. We are experts.

In the UK, the Hutton enquiry is laying bare the process by which governement press releases and reports are prepared. Are we surprised? No. But does it make us more cynical? Yes.

Trust? ... Trussed!

This pervasive and uncontrollable transparency invites a form of daily democracy in which ideas and people and power and motivations can no longer be interpreted, let alone separated.

Without reliable brands, we are drowning. Without reliable government...

When government becomes this transparent, you'd better keep an eye on it. It may just disappear entirely....
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