I’ve just finished reading Zero History; the latest novel by cyberpunk pioneer writer William Gibson. Gibson’s last three books have revolved around marketing, brands and how consumers relate to them. Marketing is represented by an agency called Blue Ant and its CEO Herbertus Bigend. Bigend is portrayed as being omnipotent, grasping to see around the corner into the future so he can put a price stamp on it. Marketing agencies are compared and contrasted in two of the books with elements of the private military industry that has sprung up since the demise of the cold war. Brands are distrusted and disliked – in Pattern Recognition one of the characters had an allergy to badly designed brands and Zero History revolves around a set of products that aren’t a brand, don’t have a traditional distribution model; yet defined by a ‘baked in’ brand truth. By contrast PR people are referenced as being attuned to the zeitgeist, the canaries in the coal mine for large events; which funnily enough was a key outtake from Echo Research’s Summit a couple of weeks ago.
But Gibson is just a novelist what does this really tell us about marketing? Gibson’s value as a novellist is as much about his ability to tap into the zeitgeist. His cyberpunk books predated the web as we know it and has shaped the way many experts have thought about our interactive lives. Bigend reflects what Gibson thinks is societies distrust of marketing and brands, consumers now have a hunger for authenticity. Gibson’s comments on PR also points out one of the industry’s most underrated values as a provider of qualitative insight. In order to do this the industry needs to move beyond media and analyst relations to take a wider influencer-centric approach (and digital | social media is a great way to do this). It’s time for us not only to think of ourselves as communicators, but also as listeners.
Archived from blog posts I wrote for PR Week