Wednesday, 10 December 2008

The soil will be much richer for the ashes.....


Take a good look around you. The operating system you’re using, the age of your computer, the furnishings, the cell phone you’re using, the clothes you’re wearing, even the watch strapped to your wrist or the cup of “four bucks” frappe/latte/cino number you’ve ordered in the coffee shop. Soak in all the little details of 21st century living and try and hold that image, because quite frankly I don’t think things are ever going to be the same again you see, because the ultimate green shopper is an oxymoron. The ultimate green shopper doesn't shop. That's the sick end of marketing.
We’ll probably never have as much new stuff around us as we are looking at now. It’s easy to become conditioned by new stuff, even easier to be dissatisfied with it all, wanting ever newer and more complex gadgets.

The financial meltdown that I first talked about over here hasn’t even really properly kicked off. As I understand it from the huge amount of reading I’ve been doing, it took four whole years for the depression to reach it’s full depth. I doubt if this one will take so long but let’s assume it’s three times as fast for the sake of arbitrary guessing because that is after all what I’m trying to do. I’m trying to guess what and when. I think I’ll get the times more wrong than the what.

My first attempts at trying to visualise the near future ended up with a sort of feeling that the developed world such as the United States and the E.U. would take more of a hit than the developing world, and that stands to reason doesn’t it? The lower the per capita GDP, the less the potential fall in the standard of living.

The bigger they are the harder they fall so to speak.

But having spent some time looking at the China figures, there’s a whole world of pain there too, that takes on a different dimension because of the sheer scale of the numbers. 20 million migrant workers already back on the farms and changing the demographics probably forever. It really is a hell of a mess whatever way we cut the figures.

The nasty pill to swallow is the potential for the food chain to break down. We’ve already seen an institution like Woolworths hit the floor and yet that’s just a taste of where it’s heading. Woolworths was always like the sick puppy on the edge of the pack that failed to make money in the good times when money was abundant, and thus is first to go as money liquidity tightens. Who is next? National Express coaches? Debenhams? 3 mobile phone network? Which business entity (which brand) has been running on vapours during the good years? Those are the people who are likely to bow out first. But it’s worse than that isn’t it? Because if someone who moves or distributes food about takes a hit from liquidity problems then that’s the end of very specific foodstuffs in our supermarkets. Some are talking about the need for growing local food again; turning gardens into allotments - which is ironic given the sweet spot thing I talked about and how local foods are the least carbon intensive. So who is the weakest supermarket in the UK these days? Is it Safeway? Does Safeway even still exist? It’s been some years since I looked at UK supermarkets but the point is still the same. Who is the weakest in the pack? Local food folks. Read or listen to Rushkoff or Paterson if it’s a smarter mind than mine you seek.

Anyway there is the worst of it, those links are some of the really smart people out there (Rushkoff is my new Daddy!) who are capable of making the meta leap over the information that I would take an age to digest and the suggestion that they conclude upon is the likelihood of a loss of confidence in traditional paper money, and a potential return of local currencies (barter is always good too, barter is very good). They also suggest the end of retail or put another way the end of abundance.

I think that seems a fair suggestion to make.

I always had a few problems with the ‘free’ economy, and that was mainly because it could only be accessed by the wealthy participants. It’s not really FREE is it if only we can access it and a vast amount of people in the world who live on a dollar a day have no access to it at all? That’s not free, that’s called privileged isn’t it? I am, and so are you if you’re reading this. We're privileged and don't you forget it.

I guess the 'free economy' or model is starting to look a bit like irrational exuberance when all is said and done. Nothing is for free isn't it? Not even if those transistors that are infinitely able to make themselves faster or smaller. The point is you can’t eat transistors. Just a thought folks. Try living off Moore’s law if you’re hungry.

So if we’re moving from the age of abundance to an age of scarcity what impact does that have on marketing communications? Well given the paucity of marketing communications on Red Square in Moscow during the 80’s, or on Tiananmen Square in Beijing today (out of courtesy) or across the entire length of North Korea I’d say that in an age of scarcity not abundance the need for marketing communications is drastically reduced. I don’t know how much is left. I do know that whatever is left will be fought for, and highly competitive. It will probably be damm good too. I just don’t know how much of the pie is left after the party is over and all that is left is an almost immeasurable canyon of debt. For that is all there is left it seems. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan will be OK. They did well out of the last great depression didn’t they?

As far as I can figure out the only ‘rewire our economies’ ideas that those at the Treasury and at the Fed are capable of coming up with work along the lines of consumption will get us out of this mess. Can you believe that? Do you really believe that?

This is gross intellectual fraud isn’t it? Didn’t excess consumption put us in this mess in the first place? I keep going back to a comment I read on Naked Capitalism; that the soil will be much richer for the ashes and yet it seems that the stateside Wall Street and Whitehouse folk are hell bent on denial that we’re even on fire, all the while fueling the flames with more and more borrowed money to put off the impending collapse of the financial system. Yet isn’t that the logical conclusion. Shouldn’t the system collapse before new shoots of growth emerge? The soil will be much richer for the ashes.....remember that.

Probably a lot of you are thinking this is unnecessarily gloomy, yet I’m not unhappy. I’m more optimistic about the future than at any other time in my life, in a perverse kind of way.

I know that all those with businesses and mortgages or negative equity in property or worthless shares or credit card bills up to their eyeballs will be very reluctant to read a post of this nature, and truthfully I’m no seer or a prophet. But what I am able to do that most it seems are really really reluctant to engage with, is play with the notion that things really aren’t good at all this time and to take those arguments to the logical conclusion. Most it seems would prefer not to ‘go there’. I’m able to, for reasons of planning, foresight and an ounce of luck.

I think we just saw the end of the renaissance that began in the middle ages. I think it finally is coming to an end. I think we have a new renaissance around the corner and just like the last we’re also emerging from the drudgery of a black death or plague that has inflicted and is yet to inflict more misery everywhere. A selfish age at the end wasn’t it?

I don’t think advertising is that important to me at the moment. I want to see the carnage before I go into how socialist media is likely to be part of the solution. We’re all in it together after all.