Back to the Jetsons

'Something sizzled to the right of him. A commercial, made by Theodore Nitz, the worst house of all, had attached itself to his car. 'Get off,' he warned it. But the commercial, well-adhered, began to crawl, buffeted by the wind, towards the door and the entrance crack. It would soon have squeezed in and would be haranguing him in the cranky, garbagey fashion of the Nitz advertisements.

‘Something sizzled to the right of him. A commercial, made by Theodore Nitz, the worst house of all, had attached itself to his car. ‘Get off,’ he warned it. But the commercial, well-adhered, began to crawl, buffeted by the wind, towards the door and the entrance crack. It would soon have squeezed in and would be haranguing him in the cranky, garbagey fashion of the Nitz advertisements.

He could, as it came through the crack, kill it. It was alive, terribly mortal; the ad agencies, like nature, squandered hordes of them.

The commercial, fly-sized, began to buzz out its message as soon as it had managed to force entry. ‘Say! Haven’t you sometimes said to yourself, ‘I’ll bet other people in restaurants can see me!’ You’re puzzled as to what to do about this serious, baffling problem of being conspicuous, especially-’

Chic crushed it with his foot.’

- from The Simulacra (1977), by Philip K. Dick

This little nugget has stuck with me for a few decades now. I always suspected it could happen some day and, as with many asides created by the sci-fi masters, the underlying premise is getting scarily near fruition.

Some of the marketing applications afoot with wireless come darn close to the direct intrusiveness of the ad bug envisioned by Dick. This issue in D + I, some of the steps being taken down that path are explored, and even though wireless marketing is still in its infancy in Canada, already pundits are saying ‘watch out’ in terms of overstepping your welcome with consumers.

The m-commerce applications are equally sci-fiesque.

In Japan, wireless carrier NTT-DoCoMo is testing a service that lets you buy bevvies from pop machines by making a call on your cell phone and paying via an m-wallet, an innovation that originally rolled out last year on a more limited basis in Finland. In Australia, Coca-Cola is testing a similar service, Dial-A-Coke, where soda purchases are billed to your cell. There are plans to escalate this smart soda machine trend by adding browsers and streaming video. The endgame of this futurescape has the m-wallet/wireless billing realm spreading, until, hey, we don’t need cash OR plastic. But if you only want a pop, isn’t it a heck of a lot easier to just fish around in your pocket for some change?

Staying ahead of the curve while not sticking your neck out in some daft direction – is quite the minefield in wireless apps. This is especially true in North America; here, the installed base and tech compatibility issues are trickier.

In his latest newsletter, Toronto-based futurist Richard Worzel, describing how commerce may be conducted in 20 years, envisions a world where clients sign on in their teens to customer service orgs that do not push their own products, but instead act as commission-based intelligent agents to supply all the needs of their clientele. Each customer is given a wearable supercomputer, which entails a surgically embedded earpiece and a pocket-sized digital device that ties into a global communications net to source all requests, in effect functioning as a personal concierge. Hmmm…

While it definitely has Jetsons overtones, it also has elements that put it not far out of the realm of possibility. With time-crunched consumers facing a growing barrage of messages being channeled towards them from an increasing number of sources, folks will need to screen (or have filtered for them) as much of it as possible. This makes the need to instill loyalty in customers that much more imperative, which supports Worzel’s ‘this might lead to the end of advertising and a big chunk of retail’ – as we know it – scenario.

In this issue the topic of what’s fuelling the trend towards more direct marketing practices is explored in the cover story on The Bay, and the need to continually woo customers is also illustrated in the case of The Body Shop’s decline (page 9).

When The Body Shop came to Canada it was novel on many fronts. There were no similar retail entities purveying bath and beauty products in a stand-alone chain. The environmentally friendly practices and products were head-turning at the time – they coincided with the beginning of consumer desire for cause-related commerce. Time passed, everyone else jumped onto the enviro bandwagon and new retail competition came into the marketspace. The Body Shop, which began with a very gung-ho clientele (prime for a good loyalty program), could have shored up against this day by continuing to win new converts and paying more attention to keeping their existing shoppers engaged. I have a shower caddy, gym bag and tub full of Body Shop product, but I am constantly intrigued by bonus offers, samplings and numerous other pitches for competitors’ product. This needs to be countered, loyalty has a best before date if not refreshed, and everyone else is escalating that game.

The fate of the LCBO (Page 1) is sort of a flip-side story, which went from stores that resembled OTB venues (remember when orders were marked with an X on little forms with tiny pencils, and cash and plain brown bags were surreptitiously exchanged?) to world-class retail emporiums. Despite a seeming lock on the liquor market in Ontario, the team at the LCBO took a very proactive marketing approach, far surpassing wine and beer store competitors, and also grew sales in categories that are flat or down in other markets. The fruits of constantly being out in front (even when you pretty much are The Pack) in terms of anticipating customer’s needs and giving them more than they ever thought to expect can be seen in their phenomenal sales results. cheers, mm

FYI: The Simulacra also features a ‘ buzzing, super-alert, obnoxiously persistent reporting machine.’ I’m looking forward to that one.