Revolving Digital Doors

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I used to decry the fact that CMOs who embraced much of the ethereal nonsense of branding never stuck around their jobs long enough to suffer the consequences of their actions; they, along with their agency friends who enabled the nutty (and usually hefty) expenditures, moved to new jobs where they busily got to work repeating themselves before their old employers announced sales declines and cost-cutting.

Now the social media gurus are doing it. Pepsi’s social guru has gone to Kraft. Nestle has hired a social media author. And Campbell’s Soup has hired serial social genius Adam Kmiec, who promises to make the soup company “…the most digitally fit CPG organization in the world.” Kmiec has publicly alluded to partnerships with BuzzFeed and Funny or Die, after having effected a digital coupon campaign with Foursquare while at Walgreen’s (one of his eight jobs, which means he’s changed employers almost annually since he reached the legal drinking age).

Not surprisingly, the agencies who enable digital things think these gurus are the cat’s meow. So do their employers, who’d normally be the adults in the room but are either in on the scam — playing to the expectations of the Street, which are based on the public pronouncements of the very gurus who get the jobs in a wonderfully effective feedback loop — or foolish enough to believe what they’re told. I’m sure the headhunters who are doing the door spinning are thrilled to have the business, too.

The thing is, the digital revolution hit Campbell’s over a decade ago, if not longer, just as it did most other big companies. Sourcing and manufacturing were digitized, the controls moved closed to the points of origin and/or use. Supply chain management transitioned from written ledgers to computer dashboards. Personnel and recruiting began the shift online, just as  digital files began to replace file cabinets for corporate record-keeping. Communication and tracking of sales got digitized.

Digital also became a part of marketing, from market and consumer research, to the delivery of marketing content, whether directly to consumers or simply made available at POP. Business intelligence is old news at Campbell’s, or should be.

This digital revolution — remember, it’s either over or in its waning stages of completion — brought with it new ways to get old things done, only better, faster, and more cheaply. It literally taught old dogs new tricks; there was no wholesale replacement of staff in the affected departments. Digital became a required skill…a tool for people who were managers of supply chains, etc. The rules of these functions didn’t change as much as how they were defined and delivered. The laws of accounting and physics still apply.

But the social media function is a different animal, so much so that defining and delivering it requires a separate breed of individual. Every big brand needs to have one (or a team of ‘em). These gurus think, believe, and act differently than their everybody-else brethren, which means everything they touch also obeys the rules they recognize and understand, and not those that might have applied before. They are busy creating anew the marketing world, not as they find it but as they imagine it.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of value to using digital tools in marketing. It’s just that many of the most successful campaigns have been simply adaptations of analog activities, like distributing coupons. The true power of P2P networking is incomprehensibly larger by comparison. It is changing changing not just businesses but our entire way of life. But tie-ins with Foursquare and stupid online content isn’t just tangential to those changes, but often inimical to them. When Campbell’s plans to up its digital spending while cutting its overall marketing budget, you have to worry about how much it’s buying into a fantasy.

Most gaming and funny video social stunts don’t have anything to do with realizing the future of digital communication, just as redefining the deliverables of marketing into the squishy qualities of likeability, shareability, trustability, buzzability (or whatever) has nothing to do with the real mechanisms of selling and buying. But today’s gurus aren’t concerned with those established rules of the game. They have followers on social media who “like” them, so they must be right.

And the digital door spins. Big new plans are announced, just as the detritus of the old ones fades and is forgotten. Stay tuned for more brash rule-breaking with brilliant creative and insanely new ideas about human nature. And then the door will spin again and we’ll get another round of it.

It could make you dizzy.

Image via flickr

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