Very enjoyable time at the PSFK London conference the other day. It’s being extensively blogged elsewhere (links below) so I won’t try to cover the whole thing, just edited highlights. If you’re not familiar with the PSFK blog, it describes itself as “a lens of changes in cultural behaviour that influence all of us” – or to mix the metaphor, it’s a constant stream of new trends in media, business, fashion, the environment, entertainment etc etc. For someone like me it’s an interesting read, for professional marketers I gather it’s essential.
So where are all these trends leading us? The first conference session presented us with contrasting visions of the future. First up was Timo Veikkola, whose job is predicting the future for Nokia. I was intrigued to learn that we’re currently in a “Noah’s Ark period” of floods, cataracts and hurricanoes, not to mention Famine, War, Pestilence etc – but that by 2010 or so we’ll see renewed optimism in society, which apparently happens at the dawn of every decade. I was fascinated by Timo’s predictions and explanations of how he extrapolates from “What’s happening now?” to “What’s going to happen next?”. By the end of his presentation I was even starting to feel (dare I say it) quite optimistic. Thenl the bubble was burst (for me) when we were presented with the following quotation, apparently without irony:
“The one fact about the future of which we can be certain is that it will be utterly fantastic.” Arthur C. Clarke.
I was horrified. Surely the one fact about the future of which we can be certain is that we can’t be certain of it? And surely we’ve seen enough of the Brave New World to suggest that it’s not likely to be relentlessly “fantastic”?
As if on cue, Regine Debatty of We Make Money Not Art stepped up to offer a distinctly less Utopian take on the shape of things to come. If you’ve not seen WMMNA yet, you might not want to – it’s fascinating but not for the squeamish, a kind of avant-garde version of PSFK, tracking emerging trends in art and technology. E.g. Today’s top post is part of a series on Future Body Parts, featuring an artist who had a hymen grown in a petri dish and grafted onto his right nostril. Regine described a future in which the poor eke out a living by offering themselves as living platforms for the growth and harvesting stem sells while the rich ostentatiously display their unblemished bodies; where we keep the scalps of deceased love ones like pot plants in our homes and stroke the hair that miraculously keeps growing; and where hunger and vegetarian scruples are neatly disposed of with the mass production of “petri-dish pork”. Regine was charm personified, but by the end of her presentation I was frankly ready for another shot of optimism. Is her future any more likely to be the real one than Arthur C Clarke’s, or is WMMNA more of a postmodern digital freak show? “Well”, as Philip Larkin said, “we shall find out”.
The next session, about the Marketing Gap in Green continued to wrestle with the implications of the future for the present. I’ve been reading John Grant‘s books and blog for ages, but this was the first time I’d seen him presenting – I was impressed with the speed of his thinking, whipping out examples and counterexamples like rabbits from a hat. If you’re wondering whether ‘green marketing’ is an oxymoron you should check out his Greenormal blog, where he’s putting together a book on the subject. The other panellists are also trying to square the circle of marketing/environmentalism – Diana Verde of Clownfish, who offer environmentally responsible brand consultancy, Tamara Giltsoff who is introducing ‘eco-luxury private car service’ to New York via Ozocar, and Karen Fraser, who has developed an Ethical Reputation Index, tracking people’s perceptions of corporate ethics. It would be easy to be cynical about ‘green marketing’ but for me the most interesting thing about this debate was the sense that environmental change and social change are inextricably bound together – given that marketers spend their time looking for ways to influence mass behaviour, there’s an opportunity for them to make a significant contribution. The last word goes to Diana Verde for puncturing the illusion that we can buy our way out of trouble: “carbon offsetting is the morning after pill of environmentalism”.
Having started my career as a psychotherapist, I found Niku Banaie‘s presentation on basic human needs refreshingly familiar after all the macro-level talk of trends and strategies. He presented us with an engagingly naive question:
Where is the love in our connected world?
Niku pointed out that for all the talk of social networking and connectedness, the word ‘love’ is conspicuous by its absence from the Web 2.0 vocabulary. Yet the need for love isn’t going away soon, and we should be careful that we don’t substitute online ‘friends’ for real friendship. Other basic needs he highlighted were the need to learn, to give back, to play and the need for simplicity in a complex world. Niku is a managing partner at Naked, which has a formidable reputation for cutting-edge media-savvy brainpower, so the simplicity of his message was slightly unexpected and all the more welcome for that.
Of all the session chairpeople (-persons?) Steven Overman had the biggest challenge in chairing the lively exchanges between Simon Sinek, Beeker and Faris Yakob, which he accomplished with admirable tact and humour. Beeker and Faris were as interesting on stage as they are in their blogs, which I’ve been reading for a while, but this was the first time I’d come across Simon. He burst into the debate like a bull in a china shop, telling us that following trends was a dangerous activity (“terrible thing to say at a trends conference – sorry”) and hammering home his message that inspiring people with a sense of purpose is the most important thing a company can do:
“There are only two ways to influence behaviour, you can manipulate it or inspire it.”
I like that – brilliantly simple and applicable to all kinds of communication, from personal relationships to marketing, therapy, management, sales, coaching, politics, etc. Looks like there’s plenty more where that came from on Simon’s blog.
After that, we were all ready for lunch.