What will advertising look like in the post-capitalist era?

There’s something terrifying about the recent hyper reality video posted by Keiichi Matsuda. Described as a provocative & kaleidoscopic new vision of the future, where physical & virtual realities have merged, and the city is saturated in media, it’s the stuff of advertising nightmares. Click here and put the headphones on. You’ll get the gist in about 60 seconds…

Shades of Back to the Future 2, Minority Report & the Fifth Element can’t hide just how dystopian, yet frighteningly close this reality feels. Juliana, the protagonist, is in a constant state of ad nauseam in a new dark world.

I work at a creative technology agency. I’m surrounded the latest in tech hardware & some very clever wizards that are often able to exploit its potential in unique ways to find solutions for clients and, in the best scenarios, give the world a little magic it hadn’t seen before. But when I saw this video over the weekend, I had a reality check.

I believe I’m fighting a machine that will lead to this hyper reality. In reality, I’m perpetuating it.

You see, when when I’m not tinkering with brilliant new technology and imagining the possibilities, I’m thinking about advertising, which, let’s be honest, is about as popular as telling someone you work as a parking inspector.

Don’t get me wrong, great advertising gives you chills and the truly great work has the ability to change minds, change policy and impact society for good (clouds over sidra, anyone?), but more often than not lately, great work feels like it’s costing MORE, occurring LESS, and the only engine driving the industry forward is our ability to increase the number of environments, surfaces and territory we can sell more ads.

Hyper reality is possibly the most tangible articulation of the advertising dystopia we all fear.

As marketers we have a long history of overusing communications tools (phones, Direct Mail, email…) simply because we can. We abuse it. It’s kinda sad. We’re simply not responsible enough to participate in open source advertising.

In the hyper reality Juliana guides us through in the video, we encounter an interfaced society that connects personal gaming, phone calls, wayfinding, assistants, crypto currencies and more. All of which are all experimental in today’s world, but the disenchantment in Juliana’s future state is polarising.

She is frighteningly helpless.

The problem we have is no one team, individual or industry, is accountable to the harmony of advertising in society. Advertising platforms are experimented, installed, and measured, but rarely decommissioned or removed if ineffectual. When was the last time there was an active movement to decommission ad units? Even if they are deleted, they’re replaced in three seconds by another ad unit — always a slight variation with slightly better targeting.

The possibility of this future makes me afraid for us all.

Afraid that we’re heading in a dystopian direction if we don’t apply ethical rigour to how we use technology to build our future. But I believe the advertising and creative technology communities have an opportunity to steer us towards something better.

A recent article on theconversation.com talks about the ethics of the new economies in the post-capitalist era. Instead of brands conceiving ways to trick people into consuming more products under the illusion of freedom and choice, society considers ways of working together to thrive and enrich each-other’s lives.

Okay, I can see you rolling your eyes a little now fearing a hippie tirade coming on, so I’ll rephrase: In one of the best articles this year on technology hijacking, Tristan Harris reminds us living moment to moment with the fear of missing something isn’t how we’re built to live and poses an interesting question:

The thought, “what if I miss something important?” is generated in advance of unplugging, unsubscribing, or turning off — not after. Imagine if tech companies (or any brand for that matter) recognized that, and helped us proactively tune our relationships with friends and businesses in terms of what we define as “time well spent” for our lives, instead of in terms of what we might miss?

Be a different world, wouldn’t it? It’s still a commercial question for a the tech company (to increase revenue), but the outcome of use contributes to society rather than individual consumption.

We’re already seeing the emergence of this forward thinking.

In Japan, Fureai Kippu is based on a commitment to caring for the elderly. Volunteers earn “time credits” by providing care to elderly people. They can transfer these credits to relatives or friends who need care, or they can save the credits for their own future use. In Norway, they’re saving sovereign wealth because it would be irresponsible to spend it now and steal from future generations.

Different world, isn’t it? As marketers, we have the power to influence human behaviour. But it’s hard, and takes time to shift it at scale.

This relies on a global Ctrl+Alt+Del on how we as consumers consider responsibility as a form of social and corporate currency.

I’m excited as much as I am anxious by the sliding doors of our next phase in corporate evolution. There are pockets of this behaviour counteracting this dystopian future, but where to next? How do we act locally and who will lead it? I sure as hell hope we can save Juliana.