Andrew Keen on New Media

Even this advertising giant admits he was 'too late' for Web 2.0

How is new media changing the communications business? What has been the impact of Web 2.0 on advertising and PR? And what can a traditional marketer learn from the intrinsic openness of new media?

Who better to ask such questions than Sir Martin Sorrell, the financial wizard who runs WPP (Wire and Plastic Products), the world's second-largest marketing and advertising company? It was he, after all, who magically transformed WPP from an unprofitable maker of shopping carts into the holding company of such iconic agencies as J Walter Thompson, Ogilvy & Mather, Young & Rubicam and Burson-Marsteller. And now he is back in the metamorphosis business – this time, plotting the transformation of the 20th-century WPP into a global 21st-century digital-communications company.

Sir Martin acknowledges that he needs to unlearn much of what he once knew. I first met him last autumn in Greece, where he invited me to WPP's "Digital Unconference" – Stream '07 – an "unconference" being an event without any formal agenda.

Stream '07 reflected Sorrell's increasingly digital-centric strategy. He invited a couple of hundred new-media mavens to a Club Med just outside Athens for a weekend orgy of technological futurism. WPP provided the beds, the food and drink and, most importantly, the network of mavens. Everything else at the unconference was just us – we the people. There were no rules, neither owners nor consumers of the message, no established authority at Stream '07, not even Sir Martin himself who, like everyone else, paddled around Club Med in shorts and sandals and gave his own subversive little speech about the digital future entitled "All I need to know I learnt from cricket".

So it doesn't surprise me, when I catch up again with Sir Martin in a phone call to New York, to find that he is still in the unlearning business. The great challenge, he confides, is convincing both WPP staff and its corporate clients that they need to let go. Today's internet teaches us that the future is all about open communications, he says, "full transparency" being the key ingredient in successful marketing, branding and advertising strategies. Thus, he implies, the most profitable companies of the future will be those that utilise the open-source tools of the Web 2.0 revolution – the blogs, the wikis, the unconferences – to successfully communicate with the outside world.

"Geography" and "technology" are changing everything in the communications business, Sir Martin tells me. As a global medium, the internet is significant in the emergence of the increasingly profitable Asian, African and Eastern European markets. Even more than geography, though, it's the new digital technology itself that is the fundamental agency of change in his industry. Thus, he explains, WPP's focus on hiring talent who are "at ease with technology" rather than the "old farts" at traditional advertising agencies who look back with nostalgia at the unwired Sixties and Seventies.

There was no single eureka moment, Sir Martin confesses, when he suddenly recognised the centrality of the internet in the evolution of the communications business. It was only in mid-1996 that he started to steer WPP toward a core digital strategy – "too late", he acknowledges in retrospect. Sir Martin is proud of some of his new-media babies at WPP, however – particularly the acquisition of innovative digital agencies like Spot Runner, Blast Radius and 24/7 Media.

Still, Sir Martin, who once ran the money side of the original Saatchi & Saatchi so successfully that he was known as the "third brother", isn't completely won over by today's Web 2.0 economic euphoria. One consequence of the speed of technological change, he acknowledges, is the fragmentation of traditional advertising business models. In a digital era in which communications businesses rise and fall with dramatic speed, it is "hard", he says, to determine long-term economic value – for example, today's Web 2.0 darling, the social networking site Facebook, being "not worth" its formal $15bn valuation.

Regarding the future of the communications business, I ask Sir Martin what will be the next big thing in new media. What will Web 3.0 look like? "Wish I knew," he replies, before confessing that he suspects it might be in video communications. I should, of course, have asked him what cricket could teach us about digital video communications. No matter. Sir Martin has been kind enough to invite me to WPP's Stream '08 Digital Unconference later this year. I'll have to remember to ask him then.

Is death imminent for Second Life?

No news is nearly always bad news in the new-media business. Take Second Life, for example, the San Francisco- based three-dimensional internet community. Last year, it seemed as if not a week went by without another story about the real-world economic success of this virtual business.

We were told that hundreds of thousands of new settlers were flocking to Second Life every week. There were endless stories of how major corporations – from IBM to Sony – were setting up virtual storefronts in Second Life. Then there were the ad nauseam tales of why living in 3-D on the net was preferable to our dreary first-life existence.

But recently, it has all gone quiet on the Second Life front. There are no more stories about why virtual existence is preferable to the real thing; no more rags-to-riches tales of entrepreneurs setting up successful companies within Second Life. Then Philip Rosedale, Second Life's evangelical founder and CEO, announces last week that he is quitting. Not good news for the inhabitants of the 3-D community.

I suspect that it won't be long before Second Life experiences its first death – just another digital dream without any economic reality. Then it will be back to the real world for all those millions of Second Lifers, back to the dreariness of their first lives.

Television for free could be Napster part two

Remember the damage that the peer-to-peer technology of Napster did to the music business? Napster made music free. Now, it seems, we might have arrived at a Napster-style crisis in the history of television. Let's call it the Zattoo moment. Zattoo is a Swiss start-up that has developed peer-to-peer technology that allows internet users to watch many thousands of hours of mainly European television shows on their computers. Zattoo is making television free, and this is not pleasing European broadcasters who believe that Zattoo's estimated 2.15 million users might be inadvertently breaking copyright law.

Enjoy the Zattoo moment while you can. Like Napster, Zattoo might get shut down by the courts. But, just as the Napster moment represented the beginning of the end of the recorded music industry, so the Zattoo moment might well end up symbolising the beginning of the end of the traditional television business.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Sport
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
sport
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
News
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sport
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Sport
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Campaign Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency is currently ...

BI Analyst

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: A leading marketing agency in Central Lo...

DBA

£40000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: DBA, London,...

Web / Digital Analyst - SiteCatalyst or Google Analytics

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading publisher in...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform