by: Dominic Basulto
Ok, so I admit it -- I picked up the latest issue of Business Week at the newsstand because I was seduced by the Children of the Web ("How Business is Cashing In on the Global Youth Culture") cover story.
What was shelling out $4.99 in hard-earned cash compared to the opportunity of finding out the secret of life, the universe, and everything before tens of millions of other Americans discovered these previously untold business secrets? What did the team at McGraw-Hill know that I didn't? (Plus, the image of the digital St. Basil's and the Russian cutie in the hot pink mini-dress talking on her Sputnik phone also made me want to flip open the magazine and start reading right there, right on the middle of 42nd Street in front of everyone.)
The article, unfortunately, didn't really live up to the hype. It was basically a glorified article about a European consumer products company (Unilever) and its efforts to sell deodorant worldwide. However, the article was disguised as a "globalization meets Web 2.0" story, to make it attractive enough to be featured as a cover story. The article basically argues that it takes a brand strategy that is both digital and global if you hope to sell products to a youthful, worldwide consumer base. As "children of the web," these consumers are part of an emerging "global digital youth market" that companies are just now starting to figure out.
Apparently, there are 7 simple steps in crafting an innovation cover story for a major business weekly:
(1) Start with a story about a fascinating product with a certain amount of rock 'n' roll (or sex) appeal that everyone's heard of. Usually, the product is something like the Segway or the iPhone, but in this case, the product was Unilever's Axe spray-on deodorant. (WTF?) Frankly, I don't get what's so innovative and clever about using "sex" and "rock 'n' roll" to sell deodorant to youngsters in 75 different countries. Yet, as the article progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that Unilever is being trotted out as an example of "how to come to grips with doing business in this complexly wired world." (Shouldn't that be "unwired" world?)
(2) Then, tell the reader that he or she is "flying blind" in a brave new world that nobody knows anything about: "Flying blind is the unavoidable consequence of coming to terms with today's most important demographic group: the tens of millions of digital elite who are in the vanguard of a fast-emerging global youth culture." This little clause, when nimbly inserted, saves any author quite a bit of embarrassment later when this brave new world turns out to look quite a bit like the old world: "Oh, you mean Enron wasn't the most innovative company ever? Hey, I was flying blind, just like everyone else."
(3) Name-drop a lot of similar trends and ideas, lumping them all together to overwhelm the reader with a sense of inevitability: "Because of smartphones, blogs, instant messaging, Flickr, MySpace, Skype, YouTube, digg and del.icio.us, young people scattered all over are instantly aware of what's happening to others like them everywhere else." This technique is actually easier than it sounds. Try this, for example: "Because of hedge funds, leveraged buyouts, IPOs, private equity deals, and venture capital financing, capital is more available now than at any time in the history of humankind."
(4) Cherry-pick examples from around the globe in order to make your case. For example, the article profiled a 30-year-old guy in India and a 27-year-old tech-savvy guy from Brazil as examples of the new type of "global citizen" united by Web 2.0. (Haven't people been talking about China, India and Brazil for years now?) There are also the obligatory examples from London, which is apparently "swinging again for the first time since the late 1960s." While the cover story photo promised examples from South Africa and Moscow (where's my devushka in the pink mini-dress?), I couldn't find a single reference to a specific example from these emerging nations, although Moscow was mentioned as a third-tier city in the "Blog Belt" of Web 2.0.
(5) Make it sound like people are partying like it's 1999, and that you're missing out on the action: "At a party the group held this spring on the penthouse roof [in London], a young woman in a little black dress waded in a hot tub while a crowd quickly knocked off 36 bottles of Deutz champagne." If that's not a party, I don't know what is.
(6) Sprinkle in a few quotes from academics, just to give the whole premise of the article a bit of solidity. An INSEAD B-school professor, for example, notes that "this kind of globalization is happening. It's still a young phenomenon, but it's growing fast, and it's going to take a lot of countries by surprise."
(7) If the premise starts wearing thin after a few pages, be sure to add in a few trends at the last minute. As if "globalization" and "Web 2.0" were not enough, the article also mentions the "edgy humor" and "kids in charge" trends to show that this really is a brave new world after all.
[image: Business Week]