The Industrial Revolution gave rise to a dilemma that was solved by a change in the messaging that has come to dominate our lives – all of our lives, globally.
The dilemma that had to be confronted and solved was about supply and demand: What would happen if all the new manufacturing plants and their ever-increasing capabilities to produce more things faster ended up producing more supply than the demand that existed for what they produced? It doesn’t take a genius to understand that would be an intolerable situation, leading to decreasing prices to such an extent that it would lower net profits, assuming that a positive margin could be achieved at all.
The answer wasn’t to limit production by limiting the number of manufacturing plants in any industry, or having manufacturing plants operate at less than full capacity. That would drive down the return on the assets devoted to building the plants. In a world where bankers made decisions based on the value of hard assets, that would be unthinkable. So, attention was turned to the other side of the equation: demand.
The core question became: Can demand be increased to absorb increased production? The solution was to change the way people think – to get people to buy things not simply because they needed them, but because they wanted them. Then the question became: How do you change the way people think? The answer was to bombard them with messages that would get them to want things to such a great degree that they would shell out their hard-earned money even if they didn’t actually need the product or service. That’s when the PR/advertising et al business began. And the enterprises engaged in that business had to produce results to survive and prosper. So they got smarter and more adept at doing just that.
“Want” messages proliferated every part of our lives on a non-stop basis. Whether through newspaper advertising, publicity, billboards, TV commercials – whatever – if you lived, you were blasted with one core message: want this … crave this … buy this. There were many reasons attributed to why you should do that: to be sexier, to appear more important, because you deserve it, to use newer technology, etc. The science of how to motivate people grew and the “want” messages became powerful in ways that the targets never even realized. For example, do you think it is a coincidence that virtually all fast food restaurants have logos that use red and yellow? It’s because research showed that those colors made people want fast food more — even if you aren’t aware that the colors do that to you.
So, we have lived in an era when the dominant message that hit us was “want this; buy this.” But the total dominance of that message is beginning to ebb with the Communications Revolution. As people choose to join communities that cater to their interests on the web and through social media, those communities acquire strength in direct relation to the number and loyalty of their supporters. It’s fair to look back a few years and conclude that such strength has not been leveraged very well (if at all) because there was no obvious way to translate the size of a virtual community into a real benefit to the community owners/managers. But that is changing. The size of communities is now being translated into economic, political and commercial benefits.
The first essential step in getting a community to grow is to entice people to join it – to support it – to basically collaborate with others who are also part of that community. The “want” message is not so relevant in that quest. So the “support” (or “join”) message is increasingly being infused into our everyday life.
In short: just as the “want” message changed our society, the “support” message is going through the same evolution. Although it may already seem to be a very visible message now, it’s just beginning. And the impact – change – of that message is also just beginning. Buckle your seatbelt. It’s already been a tumultuous ride, and it’s going to be much more tumultuous.
The Communications Revolution