Feedback from the e-G8: the other Internet brand bubble?
Raphaël De Andreis is CEO at BETC Euro RSCG Paris. He recently attended the e-G8 meeting and would like to share his insights. The result is a sharp report on social media from a marketing expert on the inside.
I have just had a unique experience. At the e-G8, I witnessed the political triumph of the e-brands. Be it on stage, with Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Eric Schmidt (Google) John Donahoe (EBay/Paypal), or in the audience (LinkedIn, Twitter, etc.), they were all there, with the exception of Apple.
The e-brands have become so powerful that the eight greatest powers in the world need to dialogue with them in order to govern. They are powerful from an economic point of view (between 20% and 30% of GDP growth is tied to the Web) and powerful from a political point of view - their presence or absence in a country is a criterion of democracy according to French President Sarkozy and President Obama has already turned Facebook into the key medium of his re-election.
For the first time in corporate history, a handful of companies, aged 5 to 25 years at most, can credit themselves with playing a vital role in society. From Tunis to San Francisco, who could imagine living without them?
Monopolies for which domination is a goal in its own
I am not particularly clued up on international politics, but I have gained some experience in marketing and what is unique about this situation is that these companies that have become so powerful so fast have not had enough time to build the brand ideology to go with it. I presume that the weakness of their image is therefore inversely proportional to the potency of their presence in people’s lives.
Never in the history of mass-market brands have companies dominated the world in such a quasi-monopolistic manner only by promoting the use of their products (which are known here as “utilities” or “applications”) and by never promoting their Brand’s credo. Facebook Connect, iTunes, Google Maps offer ultra-convenient applications that are tremendously effective, but what dream are they issued from? Note that none of the major e-brands has a slogan summing up its vision.
If one looks at the giants of successful globalisation, one notes that there is always a Brand-building exercise to accompany the promotion and distribution of the product or of the service. Coca-Cola conquered the world by promoting itself as an ambassador of the “Bright side of America”, Vuitton promotes a certain concept of the elegance of travel, Ikea and H&M make design accessible, Danone believes that food is our best medicine, McDonald’s wants to get involved in our way of life, Decathlon aims to make sport accessible to everyone, be it in Lille, Madrid or Rio…
Apple once railed against 1984, yet nowadays many forums and blogs consider its very closed ecosystem as Orwellian.
So what do all these giant monopolies believe in? In “a free Internet” they reply in chorus; but in favour of whom? Of their shareholders. This kind of rhetoric was acceptable when these shareholders were entrepreneurs who were defying conventions, revolutionising common practice and inventing new ways of communicating between people (often free of charge), but it is becoming inadequate now that they are omnipresent in people’s lives and are quite logically out to earn as much money as possible from their services. Once, you might have accepted Apple’s hegemony for the sake of “thinking differently”; but when it all boils down to shoring up its share price, it is a bit harder to swallow…
The relationship will get tenser
These giants face a number of upheavals: who will pay for the networks that they use exponentially? Who will protect the creators of the content that feed them? Who will want to give up their privacy and geographical location? All these questions will cause the relationship between the e-brands, which were cool start-ups just 5 years ago, but which are now more valuable than Peugeot, Coca-Cola or Petro-China, to become tenser. People are going to ask them a simple question, namely: what ideal are you fighting for that might justify us accepting your domination? This is a rule that applies to all brands; it would be surprising if the e-brands were to manage to avoid it for much longer.
Raphaël De Andreis
BETC Euro RSCG