Sunday, March 23, 2008

Blogging: The 32,000-Year-Old "Trend"

A week ago I railed against marketers who fail to recognize if their "new" concept will excite consumers or merely excite the marketers' own narrow interests. As an interactive marketer, I love "new", but as I said in that post, "'New' ideas based on traditional human needs and desires are gold, but innovations without that foundation are solutions in search of problems."

While experiential and interactive marketers must continue to innovate, they should always strive to understand how their "new" ideas can better satisfy age-old human wants or needs. This is the key to recognizing if a new idea will be welcome by consumers and will succeed, or whether the concept will fall flat and fail to provide ROI.

For example, take blogging. Everyone knows this is a hot new trend. But is it? Is blogging really something brand new, or merely an innovative application of technology that provides a new and better solution to human problems or desires that have existed since the dawn of man?

Here is a brief history of blogging:
  • Cave Painting: 32,000 years ago, humans began to paint the walls of caves. The exact purpose of the paintings are unclear, but it is certain the people who did the painting intended to communicate information to many others. The purpose may have been to tell a story ("look at how brave I was on the hunt") or religious ("don't tick off the rain gods"), but either way, this was the first recorded form of communication that was one-to-many, and thus cave walls were the first blogging medium.

  • Church Doors: In 1546, Martin Luther nailed a copy of the "95 Theses" to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, sparking the Protestant Reformation. The reason he chose that location to make his point is that church doors acted as the bulletin boards of his time. His document--which criticized the church for the practice of taking paid indulgences--was read by many, copied thanks to a new technology known as the printing press, and began a wave of change. One man spoke to many and altered the course of Western History.

  • The Printed Word: As noted above, the early printing press was partially responsible for Martin Luther's essay going from a single set of church doors to the eyes and hearts of many others. Two centuries later, the printing press was far more common, putting greater power to communicate into the hands of individuals. In the mid-18th Century, Thomas Paine famously self-published "Common Sense," his pamphlets that denounced British rule of the colonies. His treatise was instrumental in fomenting the American Revolution. Interestingly, a third edition of "Common Sense" included a response to criticism by the Quakers, which is reminiscent of the back-and-forth commentary found in modern blogs.

  • BBSs: Many of today's Internet users have no idea that people were communicating and sharing information from computer to computer in the pre-Internet 1970s to mid-1990s. Bulletin Board Services permitted people to dial in using modems and phone lines and post or download information. Unlike the interconnected Internet of today, BBSs were small islands of digital content and discourse. People accessing a BBS could share ideas and get in arguments, and this was so common that the Internet term "Flame" probably got its start in the days before there was a public Internet.
Those are just a few examples, but one might argue that aspects of "blogging" can be seen in everything from pirate radio stations that popped up around Europe and the U.S. in the 60s to the roots of theater, which began informally not with opulent performance spaces but with a few people wanting to tell a story (and, since theater was and is often allegorical, to make a point) to others. Wikipedia includes an interesting entry about Mass-Observation; "likened (to) blogging," this social experiment began in 1937 with ordinary U.K residents maintaining diaries and being interviewed with the purpose of documenting everyday life and opinions of the era.

I think it's important to appreciate that the most powerful "trends" aren't really new at all, but new ways of doing the same things we always have done. Interactive and experiential marketers who understand this and root their new ideas in basic human needs can create powerful experiences for brands.

No comments: