We are all Big Brother

And we are all Winston Smith.

Those, of course (or maybe not of course if you have not read the book), are aspects of one of the great novels of all time – 1984. Published in 1948 (hence where the title comes from) and written by George Orwell.

I have read it a couple of times – the first being in High School. The second after college – which I appreciated more than the first read. Not sure if it was because I was older – or because it was my choice and not part of a course curriculum. I was fascinated by the hyped idea of predictions. I was sadly disappointed when there were no outright predictions during the first read. Again, it wasn’t until the second read that I saw the predictions for what they were – amazingly insightful narratives put forth by Mr. Orwell.

I think to a lot of people the power aspect was Room 101, Big Brother and the spin used in selecting words for description – Ministry of Love (read torture), DoubleSpeak, etc. Yes, those three main aspects were controlling and all powerful – in an omnipotent kind of way.

In looking back on the novel and seeing where we are (30 years past the time the novel took place) 66 years after it was first published I see some other more disturbing predictions. Here are a couple:


The premise in the book to ‘erase’ someone from history. No evidence, no existence. Orwell based this aspect on a Stalin practice – where photos were re-touched to remove people that had fallen out of favour (read killed). For the longest time this was in the hands of experts. People that could do this with skill. Not today – anybody with PhotoShop or any online Raster-based image-editing software can have access to a massive erase button. And it’s not limited to still images. Video is vast becoming the next realm of adding and deleting for content.


Winston Smith’s neighbour (Parsons) was turned into the authorities for having thoughts against the state (while he was sleeping no less)  – by his own daughter. He admits to Winston that he is relieved to have been caught and his thoughts corrected. We don’t need people we know to do this anymore. It can, and is anyone. We have smartphones and CCTV feeds that allow any of us to collect data (ideas and photos) and distribute them without any inkling of understanding to the situation they’re reporting. Some make their way to group-judgement websites. Now, I’m not defending or condemning these site – these are just examples.

You park like an asshole.

People of Walmart.

Clients from hell.

We are all in the same boat – we are all Big Brother by judging and being a voyeur (and recorder) to the lives and apparent missteps of others (guilty-pleasure confession – I love the sites listed). And we are a text or photo away from being Winston Smith – unaware of that telescreen behind the painting.

I think it’s time to read 1984 again.

What’s your biggest social media (big brother) fear?



Upgrading your skills (all of them)

The paradigm shift that has happened while I’ve been in the workforce has been amazing: from having no fax machines all the way to being able to order a pizza – online – from my phone.

This shift has seen tremendous advances in technology. Just think of the features that are now considered standard on any phone – call waiting, call display, speed dial, contact list, etc. We’ve had advancements and additions to the channels of advertising as well. Thirty years ago it was radio, television, print or out-of-home (and that really meant billboards). To kind of understand how different the world was back then regarding advertising check out a ‘classic’ hockey game from the ’80s. Not a single extra piece of advertising to be found. Not on the scoreboard, not on the boards, not behind the bench, not on the risers on the stadium stairs, not a sponsored event between periods – nowhere!

The delivery technology has changed and morphed as well in those three decades. Remember the first time you saw a 15-second spot? How about the time you saw that mini-billboard above the urinal (that one might be just for the guys). Today we’re at a point where not only can ads be targeted to me – but to me as a guy, married, kids, location, interests. Depending on the technology, you can get as granular as you want. Or, you can still throw a big net on the traditional buys – TV, Radio, Newspaper. It’s up to you, your client and the message you want to deliver.

Your Skills

Over that time period we have had to upgrade our skills or acquire new ones: using a fax machine, a computer, cell phones, MS Word and Excel, Adobe Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator – you get the idea. There are always technical skills that we can work on. And if we can’t master them, we can hire technically savvy individuals. For instance, I have no desire to be able to code HTML5, CSS, Javascript. Ever. Are those technologies important to the job I do – you bet. No different than operating an offset press. It’s very important that I understand what the tools can achieve, it’s not as important for me to have the hands-on skills.

Your (other) Skills

The skills that are important for me to have – is the ability to think in terms of the available technologies and channels for marketing and advertising. These are the skills that are tougher to upgrade. They require a leap of faith – of accepting that there are new ways of doing things. And that today’s audiences are not the same as they were – nor should they be! At one point a lot of people got up and changed the channel on their TV – manually. Now you can watch a channel, surf the web, PIP a second show, set the PVR for a show past your bedtime. The people that own this technology are adapting to how it’s used and it’s benefits – we as marketing and advertising people need to make the same adjustments to our skills in terms of how we get messages to them.

We need to embrace the changes, we need to understand the mindset of the marketplace and deliver messaging and content that resonates. Without that insight, we might as well be sending out smoke signals – or using carrier pigeons.

What skills do you think matter?

The verbs that define us

Verb – a word used to describe an action, state, or occurrence, and forming the main part of the predicate of a sentence, such as hear, become, happen.

Our light-speed society has been adding verbs all the time. That’s kind of how language (at least English) works. As new things are invented, or new processes – we need new words. Or as stated, if you’re adding to the English language – just ‘borrow’ words from other languages. For a while we were using computer terms as verbs – I was just networking, we should interface, etc.

The new – amazing marketing – angle is when your product becomes the verb. And it’s not even intentional, I’m pretty sure it’s not. I’m going to Google that person, because I’m sure they Photoshopped that image, Jim just tweeted about it.

What a fantastic place to be in – from a company standpoint. You made a great product, people used it, people started adding to their lexicon. Here’s how you know you’ve reached mass acceptance – when people use the term but not the product – like Photoshop. Yes, lots of people use Adobe Photoshop – but everyone* knows what it means to Photoshop an image.

*everyone is defined as my Dad

You want to be part of the next big thing. You want to be the brand and the category – best spend some time working on the name. Because if it doesn’t roll off the tongue – it may not catch on.

What’s your favourite new verb?