By Dustin Verburg, Published Oct. 11,2012, via 2HelixTech
Our short attention spans lend credibility to Twitter’s amazing “140 characters or less” business model and StumbleUpon’s version of internet exploration. The years we spent hanging up photos of famous, beautiful people in our lockers reinforce our obsession with celebrity gossip, chatter which is nestled comfortably between news and comedy on The Huffington Post and BuzzFeed. We’re stuck in the middle of our nostalgia for 1990s Nickelodeon programming and our hunger for new technology.
Our citizen journalists crusade for important causes and our cat videos constantly outshine the golden years of America’s Funniest Home Videos. We’re both fresh-faced pioneers and jaded old hands. Our generation, which the New York Times once dubbed “Generation Why Bother,” owes a debt to the two generations we’re sandwiched in between, but make no mistake—we set the tone for the internet and its marketing infrastructure. In some ways, the internet we’re building is our singular vision of the American dream, one that’s based on both nostalgia and innovation.
Which Brands Inform Our Internet?
Many of us were attracted to marketing because of the strong brands we encountered in our younger years. Not all Important Internet People work in marketing of course, but the flow of money affects the state of the web to an enormous degree. The way we market our brands is directly influenced by the big brands that made an impression on us—namely Nickelodeon, Disney, The GAP, the WWF (WWE?), among a multitude of others. These brands were so big and bold that we can’t help but create our own brands in their image.
Some older brands have emerged from a stale marketing cocoon emulating those larger-than-life icons that influenced us. MTV, in particular, showed us that a bold brand could undergo a stunning metamorphosis from a music video channel to a reality TV powerhouse without a name change. MTV, Disney and Nickelodeon have all stayed relevant, both through nostalgia and through current programming, and we strive to emulate them. These brands influence us because they’re so strong that we can look back, focus on them and take away inspiration. Twitter, Pinterest, Spotify and Netflix all carry the same strength that lifted the brands of our childhood up to Olympus. In addition, those brands from our childhood remain strong because they know they can get us to come back anytime they want to—take Nickelodeon’s “The 90s are All That” for example. Nick knew that keeping those 90s shows relevant was as simple as reading Tweets on the air and using hashtags in their own Tweets—and it worked exceptionally well. Such “Twitter Takeovers” by nostalgic brands are not uncommon, but it’s even more common for current brands, created by our generation, to spread across multiple social networks. They smash through boundaries like so many Branding Juggernauts—massive and unstoppable.
How Does the Marketing Work?
“Tech savvy” doesn’t even begin to describe us, as we’re so plugged in that it’s sometimes downright unhealthy. We’re also fully aware of advertising practices, but that’s not to say that ads don’t work on us—they do. Though we’re not always the ones doing the marketing, we know ourselves as a target audience and right now we’re the target audience. We know how to appeal to our peers’ interests and values, even if we don’t all share the exact same ideals. Overall, we appreciate authenticity, interactivity and innovation. For instance, it meant the world to us when our letters were read on the air by Stick Stickly or if Melissa Joan Hart sent us a signed photo.
We try to practice that same level of interactivity—not to mention kick it up a notch— by spreading our brands across social networks and actually responding to people. We appreciate brands like Vice not because they’re crude and aloof (though those factors don’t hurt), but because they’re authentic. Their journalists put forth stunning videos about life in North Korea and drug cartel operations in Mexico just as effortlessly as they write about warehouse parties and recreational drug use. That duality is authentic. As for innovation, we need look no further than Apple, whose influence on the internet is both mobile and stationary—and who shares a reciprocal relationship of influence with our generation. We also appreciate nostalgia.
Nostalgia posts on BuzzFeed, Reddit and 4chan are all extremely popular, and it goes deeper than our attachment to the brands of our childhood. Technology advances so rapidly that nostalgia for the vastly different computers and devices of 10 years ago develops quickly in our generation. A dangerous, bleak and constantly changing world is also a factor. In a 2009, New York Times piece, David Browne wrote, “Even though nostalgia hits every generation, it seems awfully early for 28-year-olds to be looking back. One possible explanation, say authors who focus on generational identity, is the impact of the terror attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The political and economic climate of the late ’90s had been as soothing as a Backstreet Boys ballad: no wars, unemployment as low as 4 percent, a $120 billion federal surplus.” Our ideal internet, the one we’re working toward, is created in the image of a pre-9/11 world. In our minds, the 90s were a time full of limitless possibilities—we think of the internet in the same way. We use that in our branding and marketing strategies, as we hatch bigger, bolder campaigns and stretch the limits of social networks. If old social networks can’t house our marketing ideas, we simply create new ones.