Marketing Communication Anthropology: Social Branding, Media Machines, Netnography The blog of Robert Kozinets, USC communication/marketing professor

April 29, 2014

The Future of Brands, 2

Filed under: Social Media Marketing — Robert Kozinets @ 10:37 pm

William Gibson, futurist and visionarySo here we are. And yes, this new WordPress interface has me confused, which is why things might seem to be publishing before they are ready. To me, a draft means no one else sees it. Apparently, to WordPress, it means you print “Private” on it and publish it anyway….okay.

The Future of Brands and Humanity_2Well, for this first stage of my little future prediction experiments, I turned to William Gibson and his work on popular culture and media. The other authors I mentioned I am saving for work at a later date. But the task is the same: to discern the indistinct outlines of the ultimately indiscernible: the future of consumer brand relationships.

gibson1_BrownBefore I begin explaining why I want to use science fiction books to help us understand cultural directions in marketing, let us begin with a quote:

“Laney’s node-spotter function is some sort of metaphor for whatever it is that I actually do. There are bits of the literal future right here, right now, if you know how to look for them. Although I can’t tell you how; it’s a non-rational process.” —William Gibson, August 1999.[1] Johnston, Anthony (August 1999). “William Gibson : All Tomorrow’s Parties : Waiting For The Man”Spike. Retrieved 2007-07-13.

Idoru_William-Gibson,images_big,5,978-83-245-7894-8The Laney referred to in the quote above is Colin Laney, the protagonist of the final two novels in William Gibson’s “Bridge Trilogy”, which begins with Virtual Light and then extends into Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties. Laney is a technomancer of sorts, a man who, like writer Gibson himself, has a very unique talent to “spot” or interpret the multiverse of “nodes” or connections on the Internet or, as Gibson calls it in the trilogy, “the DatAmerica network.”

DatAmerica is, like the Internet of today, a very American enterprise, very capitalist, technocapitalist, ideologically technological (see Kozinets 2008 for details). It sees the future in fast forward. It tends towards a sometimes-sketchy and spook-laden military-industrial-media-entertainment complex that Noam Chomsky and Neil Postman, to name only a few erudite cultural critics, would find very familiar. One which Gibson himself hones to perfection in his later novel Spook Country.

Using experimental mind-enhancing drugs, software, and an innate talent (born, perhaps of some genetic fluke) Laney’s node reading talent allows him to use the omnipresent and incredibly dense datastream of DatAmerica/the Internet to discern connections and trends in society at large and in the little tribal micro groups and gatherings that define groups and kin and clan. He then feeds this information back to large corporations and their agents, who can act on the information.

idoru-cover_germanyLike Gibson himself, Laney partakes in what cultural theorist Andrew Ross (1991, 170) terms the institutionalized “bureaucratic form” of futurology. In the novels, Laney works for “Slitscan,” the name apparently a portmanteau merger of those who use eye trackers to attempt to measure human thought. Laney’s freaky drug-induced netnographic readings of massive data trails seem far more effective. In Laney’s world, the market is interconnected and identical with both the media carnival and surveillance in the name of National Security, where consumer participation in participatory culture unite State and stage every bit as much as they do at ESPN Zone with its ludically inverted panopticon spectacle, a concept that Kozinets et al, (2004) draw from political science and with collide consumption theory (Kozinets et al. 2004).

The media spectacle offers us a stark reflection of our contemporary selves in all their resplendent glory. This glory is sponsored by our interactions at retail, through our various paid relationships with various brands. And through this chapter, this reading of the Bridge Trilogy, we might gain clues to deepen our understanding both of its contours and its trajectory.

In the next posting, I will get down to some of the heavy lifting of that. In the meantime, I would love to get some feedback on this ongoing project. It would be great to hear from you which books you think are the best “brand future” prediction books. If I hear from enough of you, I will compile a list, maybe even offer a little survey….

Thinking about the Future of Brands, and Humanity

The Future of Brands and Humanity_2 The Future of Brands and Humanity_2   I was recently asked by my lovely colleague, Susan Fournier, to write a chapter for her book examining Consumer-Brand Relationships. That notion of relationships was so endlessly interesting and worthy of exploration. I had to say yes.

So I thought about this topic and what was so interesting to me. And I thought…hey, the future of these relationships is something that we would like to be able to predict. Can we do that prediction in a cultural sense, then? What would that mean?

The Future of Brands

And Also of Humanity


What would it mean to go beyond anthropology as study and writing to anthropology as action, as a practice, as a reclamation of a set of rituals?

For the idea of ethnography has for a while been to learn practices, to actually do and seek to become like the member of the culture, a full participating member.

In order to predict the future of brands, I will use a range of techniques, and combine them, I thought to myself.

I will think of this as a performance, an artwork, an experiment, and a marketing demonstration. Promotional material for my personal brand, in other words.

And at that moment it struck me, like a bolt out of the deep deep blue. ANTHROPOLOGY


The union of these two elements, these social media elemental opposites–the corporate brand online and the personal brand online, this is the future of brands.

And I sought from there to find some data with which to explore this idea, and I chanced upon Textualized Prediction HISTORY: some great candidate books, including

  • UBIK, Eye in the Sky, and Perky Pat’s Stigmata that Matter: each by Philip K. Dick
  • Down and Out in The Magic Kingdom: by Cory Doctorow
  • Idoru and All Tomorrow’s Parties: by William Gibson

NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2I chose to start my work on this topic here, thinking about one of this group of books, as I also contemplate, in public and private, the content for the new netnography book, a book that will be crowdsourced more than anything I have ever tried before

(although much of academic work is, in fact, crowdsourced, which is why it often reads like a crowdsourced text).

In the next blog post, I not only tell you what I am writing about. I start to reveal it to you in the freshest first draft…why not?

Let us begin to try to answer these questions about the future of brands, and along the way of course, of humanity itself.

Human history. And our humanity itself as a quality of Being Human. And then, to reward my loyal readers, I begin to weave in a whole other plotline. One I hope you will follow on CNN as it breaks major marketing news (or does not–a null hypothesis!) in headline form for social media brilliance by a marketing professor who tests the limits of academic theory at the current time. Or not. NETNOGRAPHY BOOK COVER_APRIL29_14_2

September 23, 2013

The GameFather Speaketh: Fanfic Writers, Get Your Own World!

Filed under: Social Media Marketing — Tags: , , , — Robert Kozinets @ 1:32 pm

George R. R. Martin has it pretty good right now. The mind behind the spectacularly (and deservedly) popular Game of Thrones book series, and its HBO Television spinoff is foing pretty well.

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