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The NEW American Dream: An Ongoing Conversation

A few weeks ago I watched the first episodes from the first season of AMC's tv show, Madmen, in addition I also watched a documentary on the DVD about advertising and the creation of the American Dream in the 1960s.  I suggested to my friend Aaron Strout that we write a joint article about the creation of the American Dream today and he agreed. Aaron suggested we follow two of Aaron's favorite writers, Bill Simmons aka The Sports Guy and Malcolm Gladwell of Tipping Point and Blink fame who back in May engaged in an running blog post regarding the NBA among many other things. Aaron recommended we copy their format on our blogs and create a running dialog regarding the future of the American Dream and how social media is changing the rules.

I started the discussion and Aaron wrote back with his own perspectives and questions. Aaron cross posted this article on his own blog.

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From: John Cass

Sent: Thursday, August 13, 2009 12:21 PM

To: Aaron Strout

Subject: RE: American Dream: Social Media

Aaron,

There's a documentary attached to the Mad Men DVD series that describes the culture of advertising and Madison Avenue in the 1960s. After watching the documentary, I discovered the film emphasized that advertising helped to promote the meme of the American Dream by encouraging people in the 1960s to buy products so that as an American you could demonstrate you have arrived in middle class America.

If today advertising is no longer as effective as it once was, who is promoting the idea of the American Dream? Does social media have a role in defining today’s American Dream? Are your peers, friends and families developing the American Dream?

Also, given the recent concerns about pay per post and the influence of consumer product companies on bloggers, is the web evolving to the point where bloggers are becoming a proxy for advertisers? Susan Getgood discusses more on this idea of advertisers using bloggers as a proxy, and describes the pitfalls of the FTC. Even if you do disclose payment or receiving a free product, I wonder are today’s champions of the 1960s idea of the American Dream, bloggers?

John

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From: Aaron Strout

Sent: Tuesday, August 18, 2009 1:25 PM

To: John Cass Subject:

RE: American Dream: Social Media John,

I was ecstatic when you first mentioned this concept – the fact that watching the documentary about the advertising industry on the Madmen season 2 DVD prompted you to ask the question, “if the ad men of the 1960’s essentially created the American Dream,” what does that mean in an era where advertising as we know it is all but dead? Or more importantly, what does that mean in an era where the greatest influencers of purchase behavior are now “us?” I’ve responded with some thoughts and a question of my own. Hopefully we can engage in a few of these back and forth e-mails and then cross-post on our respective blogs. Ready?

Our mutual friend and senior Forrester analyst (Jeremiah is now with the Altimeter Group), Jeremiah Owyang, has an interesting theory about microinfluence / microcelebrities. I won’t pretend to be able to discuss this topic as eloquently as Mr. Owyang but the high level take away is that rather than having national or even regional ad campaigns driven by well known celebrities, we will instead seek out the folks like Robert Scoble, Chris Brogan and Gary Vaynerchuk -- leaders in the tech gadget, inbound marketing and wine enthusiast space -- to tell us which gadgets to buy, which trends to follow and what wines we should be collecting.

There is a reason I’ve singled out these three individuals is that all three have large voices in their respective fields – easily hundreds of thousands of followers that read their blogs, watch their videos and flock to them in droves at conferences and tweetups alike. These new influencers have many big brands and their agencies scratching their heads as they try and figure out how to tap into this “micro” power. Some have tried the paid for blogger route like K-Mart did via third party, Izea, with Brogan. While K-Mart, Chris and Izea all got their fair share of publicity out of this initiative, it was not exactly as they imagined. Quite frankly, I’m not sure the world is ready for paid for blogging… yet.

In the case of Scoble, he got snatched up by hosting giant, Rackspace, with a goal of having him continue his legacy of great content creation. Gary “Vee” as many of his fans know him has been the most successful by using his micro celebrity-hood to grow his family’s multi-million dollar wine and spirits business It’s only a matter of time before a big vintner or distributor scoops him up.

As the pack of micro-celebrities rise, the big question is what impact will this new breed have on “the American Dream?” Will Scoble drive future generations to schizophrenically jump from technology to technology, always seeking out the latest and greatest regardless of the brand? Will Chris Brogan lead to a new generation of voracious readers that eschew traditional marketing techniques for “new marketing?” Will Gary “Vee” as his fans know him teach people to turn the wine industry on its head by ignoring traditional ratings and reviews of current oenophiles and seek value and passion from their wine instead?

The one question you teed up in your previous e-mail that I really like was one of “how the world will see America” in the future as a result of the shift in power from Madison Avenue to Joe blogger / Twitterer. I can’t help but think that this is going to be one of the areas of greatest impact, namely because people from all over the world can play a role in shaping opinion of products and services irrespective of their location. A developer in India can have the same voice as a designer in China, a marketer in Australia and an aspiring musician in LA. Instead of a select few ad men telling us what we’ll like and dislike, we’ll be listening to the micro-influencers while quietly helping to shape their opinion through wall posts, tweets and blog comments.

Instead of an “them vs. us” mentality, likes and dislikes will transcend geo-boundaries and rally around interests so “them” in the future might be “Google-ites” and the “us” might be “Apple enthusiasts.”

So a question for you. What products that have traditionally been driven by Madison Avenue – like soft drinks, running shoes or jeans – will be impacted the soonest by this paradigm shift?

Best,

Aaron

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Sent: Wednesday, August 19, 2009 7:01 AM

From: John Cass

To: Aaron Strout Subject:

RE: American Dream: Social Media Aaron,

I think Jeremiah's idea about sponsoring online celebrities makes a lot of sense. I think I'd have to understand the definition of a microcelebrity, maybe it's someone who is only famous within their own field? But when I think of Gary or Robert I believe they have transcended their field and have broader fame. Certainly Gary has that level with all of his TV appearances. I think if you look at the Radian6 Twebinar campaign, not only was the campaign successful for Radian6, it launched the company, but in addition the event helped propel Chris Brogan forward.

As to your question about product, I think there's already been some movement in this direction, for an example look at Zappos and their strategy for using social media for selling shoes, I am sure the crowd has influenced the Zappos approach to selling and what to sell.

Let me think more on this question.

In the meantime let me ask you this question: The American dream concept originally meant that people had the opportunity to pursue their own personal dream. Does the advent of personal publishing, cloud computing, and the culture of participation now mean that the American dream can finally be achieved for by people?

John

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From: Aaron Strout

Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 12:38 AM

To: John Cass

Subject: RE: American Dream: Social Media

John, 

You're right in the sense that Scoble and Garyvee have become semi-well known in the non-social circles. Chris B. is on his way there.

Good call on the Radian6 Twebinar campaign. And I like Zappos as an example of social helping to sell shoes (and other stuff). They are a company that everyone should have on their radar. Although I’m concerned about how being owned by Amazon may affect their autonomy. I haven’t seen any drastic changes in behavior yet but I’d be surprised if they don’t try and reel in CEO, Tony Hsieh, a bit as his ongoing transparency could become a liability for the corporation. I have a couple of friends that work at Amazon. Maybe I’ll see if I can get their take. I may also consider asking Tony to come on the Quick-n-Dirty podcast show I do with my friend, Jennifer Leggio.

Onto your question for me regarding the American Dream and whether it's finally achievable thanks to social media. I'm going to give you a consulting answer and say, "maybe." By the way, I thought you'd appreciate that I'm writing my response to you while on a plane from NYC to Atlanta and the last episode of season 2 from Madmen is on - very apropos given the impetus for this post.

To drill down on my answer a little, I'll go further and say that the reason that we haven't fully achieved the American Dream due to the mass adoption of social media is that many people are still limited by time and connectivity. What I mean by this is that while WiFi access is more accessible than ever (especially thanks to public libraries and internet cafes), a number of people, especially those who work in more traditional blue collar industries typically can't get to libraries or internet cafes during work hours. Also, for people working 1+ jobs a day, engaging in social media is a luxury. With that said, I'll say that we are close. I think that if there is a will, there is a way. Especially with the ever increasing penetration of internet-enabled phones.

So, I think it's time for me to tee up a question for you. If a slice of the American Dream is for any musical artist to make money from the sale of their music, do all the downward pressures of free (albeit illegal) services like Bit Torrent and the rise of all-you-can eat services offered by Napster and some of the big wireless carriers going to rob these artists of this possibility?

Best,

Aaron

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From: John Cass

Sent: Thursday, August 20, 2009 7:18 AM

To: Aaron Strout

Subject: RE: American Dream: Social Media

Hi Aaron,

Do you recall the interchange between the Amazon.com CTO or CIO and a blogger a few years ago about social media, it could have been Robert Scoble. Might be interesting to look back at that and see if the CTO is still around?? Perhaps its time for Amazon.com to change and not Zappos!

What you say about the digital divide is true, though you gave me an idea, perhaps most people don't know how they can use social media for creativity, I wonder if our article should also attempt to inspire people to achieve all that they can do. I've always been motivated to give adults another chance through education, even though their current life might seem as if its difficult to change. I think social media gives people another easier opportunity to change themselves into something they want to be.

Regarding music, I think we've seen so many examples of unknown bands making it big because of their use of social media, that I'd argue that social media is more of a help to music by keeping it rich and varied rather than just corporate. It seems to me the quality of American music has improved, maybe it is difficult for me to argue that social media was the cause but I suspect it was. For some big artists there may not be the same opportunity as there was in the 80's with making as much money, but perhaps now more artists will be able to make a living. I think that artists have to look for alternative ways to make money, such as concert tickets and other goods, the music can be sold but perhaps sometimes that's the loss leader to build the long term relationship.

John

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From: Aaron Strout

Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 1:23 PM

To: John Cass

Subject: RE: American Dream: Social Media

John

Great point on social helping bands. I've definitely seen it help some of the bigger bands like Radiohead and I'm sure there are hundreds of stories of smaller, lesser known bands tapping into the likes of MySpace and Twitter to grow their followings (same can be said about Pandora helping out). As for inspiring people to achieve all they can do, I like that goal. I'm going to suggest that for a different post. In fact, I just watched a movie last night called Revolutionary Road. A bit depressing but very well acted and it had a great message i.e. be careful of what you settle for. You game?

Either way, doing this post via e-mail with you has been a blast. Your move..

Best,

Aaron

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From: John Cass

Sent: Wednesday, August 26, 2009 2:43 PM

To: Aaron Strout

Subject: RE: American Dream: Social Media

Aaron,

Super, I'd definitely be up for continuing the conversation in a different post. I really like the idea of the American Dream inspiring people to be more than they are..especially already established and older people who might no longer be all that motivated because of where circumstances and choices have taken them in life. I think there's always hope, and it would be interesting to explore how social media has changed people's lives.

Great to collaborate on these ideas..

On a topical note, but seemingly related, I've been listening to some of the radio eulogies about Ted Kennedy, certainly a very inspiring man who drew a lot strength from his family, experiences and even tragedies, but who did something with those experiences.

John

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