Tech tock, tech tock...

October 16, 2012

By Lisa Wang,VP & Regional Head of Exchange Traded Funds Marketing, State Street Global Advisors

Two recurring themes from the presentations at the ANA conference, whether they came from P&G, J&J, McDonald's, Luta, BP, Ford, etc. stick out in my mind. The first is understanding and embracing how technology can transform your business model and brand on a scale never before achieved; think how McDonald's efficient assembly line process revolutionized all industries across the globe. The second is leveraging your brand platform to do more just than sell products, but to personify the offering through acts that help underserved communities, as was the case for Luta's Fight for Peace program; a boxing-based project that takes youth off streets that are terrorized by drug wars.

Even more, today's technology allows people to communicate crisis, assemble a support group, or provide potable water to remote regions, and companies are pitching in. Although these high-profile humanitarian efforts might help companies sell widgets and build brands better and faster than hungry looking models, they are also the RIGHT things to do. And for us as consumers and marketers, it's very easy to support these efforts through linking inspiring Dove campaigns on Twitter and "liking" a relief effort post to donate a dollar through Facebook (and you know you like the warm tingle you feel as you push that send button). But what do we do about the dark side of humanity where the ticking bomb of technology is used to do WRONG? Things like advancing a nuclear arms race, releasing computer viruses on national defense systems and posting hate videos on YouTube? As much as we want to impact positive change, these situations are ones we tend to turn a blind eye to and leave in the hands of our national leaders. Because hey, that's above our pay grade, outside of our perception of our sphere of influence and frankly we've got enough problems to worry about! New York Times journalist David E. Sanger injects a dose of the current-events surrounding these realities, tells us why we should care and challenges us to consider what we can do about them. 

In our profession, technological advancements are heralded as a means of reaching our target demographic faster, honing in on their desires before they even form a conscious thought and converting those wants into actionable sales, all packageable, trackable and quantifiable. This was amply exhibited in the impressive and well-strategized programs exhibited by P&G, J&J and McDonald's this morning. These global giants have shown how technology has literally changed the way we eat, sleep, and communicate. 

A continuing and daily example of "if you build it, they will come" technology has revolutionized individual people, local communities, whole countries - the entire wired and connected world. And in our industry, we can't afford not to capitalize on new developments that allow for us to have a bigger voice and collect data to create better products that suit the evolving needs of individuals. And while we marketers use these new systems/outlets/platforms to provide innovation, create scalable improvements to our daily lives (and let's not forget, hunt down our consumerist prey to sell our wares in more and more targeted ways), Sanger reminds us to think about the role we play in the dark side of technology. He urges us to open our eyes and take an active role in molding the changing society we live in.

Covering historical and potential black swan events like the Cuban missile crisis, the Arab Spring, wars in the Middle East, and the powerfully global impact of China's economy, Sanger delivers how some biting and bitter realities (with a lighthearted side of sarcasm) were made possible with the deadly formula of: the evolution of technology (just shy of Terminator 2 capacities) + media + ignorance + socio/economic/religious conflict. These events, and others like 9/11, surprised and shocked us as we occasionally deny the fact that humanity can be responsible for such catastrophic events and, in hindsight, have left blind spots open to the imagination and manifestations of human emotion.

As citizens of the world it is incumbent upon us to understand why these events have happened and how we can take a more active role in driving the future. As high-tech creations grow and integrate themselves into our daily lives, it is all too easy to embrace change and utilize them not only to satiate, but to amplify our basic human needs, emotions and, sometimes, insecurities. And through the last five decades, these advancements have created a global society that takes the scalability of human actions to a potentially unmanageable level. Sanger's message resonated very clearly: Technology has enabled many amazing things but its use and repercussions fall on the shoulders of each of us. The intention and actions are what drive the moral compass of who we want to be. And although we individually hold very little weight, collectively we have and can move mountains.

As marketers, we strive to significantly impact the industries we reside in, but we can't stop there. We must also take an active role in the communities where we live as well as the global society at large. As we move toward a culture not unlike the futuristic worlds in "Total Recall" or "Minority Report", we cannot fall into the heartless hands of technological determinism, but instead lead with the best of humanity. We need to unify our voice against hate, against violence, against genocide; show compassion for non-violent thoughts and opinions. We need to show as much passion and enthusiasm as we have so effectively done in building our brands, to creating a better world. 

In his credo, Albert Einstein said, "Our situation on this earth seems strange. Every one of us appears here, involuntarily and uninvited, for a short stay, without knowing the why and the wherefore. In our daily lives we feel only that man is here for the sake of others, for whom we love and for many other beings whose fate is connected with our own." While the statuses of nations rise and fall and circumstances change, we as world citizens can still fight for the good, the simple and the "priceless" moments in life to prevail. So dust off that finger (not for the engagement) to rock the vote this fall, spread awareness on real world issues through social media and dial up your social network to impact positive change. As Sanger so eloquently put it, to the young eager minds in the crowd, "the future is in your hands, don't screw it up!"

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