Social Objects, Storytelling and the Simple Shift…
Melvin Green

Social Objects, Storytelling and the Simple Shift…

Written by Ross Ashcroft Monday, 01 August 2011

Picture the scene – July 2011 a marketing get together in London.

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The thrust of the event is that marketing has changed for good and marketers are behind the curve. The change is that people do not want stuff or social networks anymore they want Social Objects. A Social Object is a campfire. It is something that we people can gather around and invokes us to tell each other our stories. The Social Object has to inspire us because stories are human currency – stories are our lifeblood.

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“I just don’t want any more stuff….”

Some people are there to learn about the future marketing. Some are there because they agree with the speaker and having their worldview confirmed is balm to the soul. Some don’t want to be there – they have to be there because they don’t have a clue about the ‘next big thing’. Others are there because there is a free bar and the artist in conversation will be signing his cartoons at the end of the talk.

After meaningful applause Hugh MacLeod - the now famous cartoonist began signing his work. Towards the end of the signing a gentlemen in Standard Marketing Attire* strategically approached Hugh and pulled from his bag a meerkat. Not a real meerkat – a soft toy or in marketing speak – merchandise. He offered it to the nonchalant artist as a gift and explained that he was associated with the creation of a campaign that used these meerkats to sell car insurance to the British. After some deliberation and robust heckling from a member of the crowd Hugh graciously declined the present claiming “Thanks anyway man – I just don’t want any more stuff.” Meerkat man left with cartoons signed by Hugh ‘for his kids’, the heckler celebrated his victory claiming the guy wasn’t authentic and meerkat man slipped into the night frustrated.

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The heckler was right and this exchange was significant because it depicted perfectly what had been discussed in the talk. Modern marketers have to understand people don’t want stuff – they want meaning and purpose. This is not new age spiritual guff it is reality in a post consumerist society.

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From Foot Soldier to Conscientious Objector

Consumers are battle weary – they have been dutiful foot soldiers buying all the stuff marketers have instructed them to buy over the last five decades but now the old template is broken. Two significant things have changed. The first is that generally this consumption hasn’t made people really happy. The second is that those people are not falling for the same trick again. So what do these consumers want? The first thing they want is to be stopped being called consumers.

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If we replace that word consumer with colleague or contemporary we have a fighting chance in engaging them. So we flatten the hierarchy and ask what does a contemporary want? That is really very simple: they want the same thing as every one of your contemporary’s, colleagues, friends and family. They want support, purpose, meaning, knowledge and life enhancing moments. They don’t want lip service n’ stuff and unless the marketing department accepts this and genuinely services that need then good money follow bad Q1, Q2, Q3 and Q4.

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Social Objects are formed around purpose – they give meaning. They are created by people or companies who are driven by a cause greater than themselves or their bottom line. Put very simply social networks or products that do not have genuine meaning and purpose will wither.

Which brings us to a bigger point - CSR and marketing departments are no longer an addendum to the core business – they are the core business and the quicker that CEO’s and boards appreciate that the quicker they will grow their business and change their colleagues’ lives. Simples.

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*Standard Marketing Attire – Dark suit, white shirt – two buttons undone, no tie, retro/classic shoes, expensive watch, casual executive hair, well timed stubble.

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Ross Ashcroft

Ross Ashcroft

Award winning filmmaker / Co-Founder of the Motherlode Studio / Renegade Economist

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  • Comment Link Peter Wednesday, 03 August 2011 10:16 posted by Peter

    Definately strikes a chord with me Ross, have long wished to be considered a citizen rather than a consumer. When the mainstream meadia reduces its use of the word "consumer" then this will be a clear sign of progress.
    ps: good example of standard marketing atire in you profile picture!

  • Comment Link Ross Ashcroft Wednesday, 03 August 2011 13:29 posted by Ross Ashcroft


    I have been rumbled. What a hypocrite I am!!! You are right I'm wearing the uniform - I must change that shot and resign it to the bin of progress. Totally sub-conscious but you caught me - thanks for the heads up.

    Agree that when mainstream stop talking about consumers we will have turned a corner. It's on its way.

    Meanwhile I'm off to the mall to buy a hemp hair shirt and yogurt knitter happy pants.

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