Lynda Resnick & Ken Youngleib – The Glass Factory

Lynda Resnick, Co-Chairman, Roll Global
Ken Youngleib, Senior Writer, The Wonderful Agency (formerly known as Firestation Agency)

There’s an expression people in the advertising industry use to describe a certain kind of ad: “Shouting from the factory window.”

At one time, it was almost literally true. Companies believed it was sufficient merely to tell the consumer how great their product was, and he (or more frequently, she) would beat a path to their store and plunk down her money.

"This is our factory. Go buy our product."
“This is our factory. Go buy our product.”

Then companies got smarter, and realized they had to offer consumers an actual benefit to buying their products, even if it was only fanciful.

"Attract beautiful women simply by wearing our aftershave."
“Attract beautiful women simply by wearing our aftershave.”

And that worked out pretty well for a while. The factory stood, although now it was called a brand, and broadcast its message to the world.

Things have certainly changed, haven’t they?

Now, thanks to technology, the message isn’t flowing in one direction anymore. Consumers are talking back, and everyone can hear what they’re saying. Whatever a company does becomes public knowledge, it all happens instantly, and it plays out on a global stage. The shop owner in Cairo knows exactly what’s going on with Chick-fil-A – even if he has no idea what a Chick-fil-A is.

The factory is made of glass.

And its windows are wide open.

What does this mean for the future of advertising?

For one thing, as companies become more transparent, their behavior will be compared critically to their messaging: what they do will be as important as what they say.  And the “what they do” part will become more and more encompassing.  How does a company treat its employees (Apple, Nike)? How does it treat the environment (Monsanto, BP)? Are its products safe (Mattel, Toyota)? Where does it stand on social issues that have nothing to do with its business (Chick-fil-A)?  Is it a good citizen, or is it just out for itself (Wall Street)?

One response to the Chick-fil-A CEO's comments on gay marriage.
One response to the Chick-fil-A CEO’s comments on gay marriage.

In a world where every corporation is a glass factory, building a brand isn’t just a function of advertising.  Everything a company says and does adds a piece to its brand edifice.  And to succeed in this new world, companies must not just accept this reality, they must welcome it.

Does that mean advertising will turn into a checklist of corporate good deeds?  Not a chance.  For one thing, consumers care, but they’re too busy to care much. The average attention span has gotten even shorter. Plus, if once there were 57 Channels and Nothing On, now it’s getting closer to 57,000.  If people are not interested or entertained by your message, buh-bye.

Moreover, two-way interactions between consumers and companies will become the norm. People will speak (or shout) through those open factory windows, and the wise company will listen and respond (as Starbucks did, with

Not just glass factories.
Glass houses.

Just as companies are becoming more transparent, so are consumers. The generation that’s growing up with Facebook and Twitter is willing – more than willing: eager – to share its personal information with the entire world (or at least its 3,000 Facebook “friends” and Twitter and Pinterest followers).

That means advertisers will soon know so much about an individual’s lifestyle and buying habits – and even their physical location – that they’ll be able to deliver messages that are both customized and relevant in real time. The mom on her way to the supermarket will find on her smartphone a coupon for exactly what she’s getting.

This fascination (or obsession) with interconnection will drive consumers’ purchasing decisions well into 2020 and beyond. Owning the latest cool tech gadget will become more and more important. What earlier generations spent their money on – nice furniture, matching dishes, fashionable clothes, a shiny new car – will play second fiddle.

But the coming generation is also aware of a glaring disconnect between the dynamism of new technology and the rigidity of existing systems. They see government gridlock, broken schools, an increasingly polarized society, and a future of limited possibilities. So they read their dystopian novels, cheer for Wikileaks and the hackers at Lulzsec and Anonymous, and think, “Who needs a new suit at a time like this?”

Seeing (through) the future.

Advertisers in 2020 will have an unprecedented amount of knowledge about their consumer, and an unimaginable number of ways to use it. But information will flow the opposite way, too, and consumers will know as much about companies as companies know about them.

Because of this, the job of advertising and brand building will no longer belong to the advertiser alone. As they learn more about a company, consumers will become brand advocates – or rock-wielding brand saboteurs – and no amount of paid media will be able to control them.

That’s why I believe that, come 2020, a company’s success won’t be based on its products, services or image. It will be based on its intrinsic values, philosophy and ethos. And it’s that foundation which will keep our “glass factories” strong and successful – and stoneproof.