Digital Darwinism: Cutting Through the Clutter

Competition is fierce, killer instincts prevail, and your chance of survival is diminishing at an alarming rate. Unfortunately, you’re not a character in The Hunger Games. You’re a brand in the year 2014, with a strong history of profit, a stable consumer base, and an unblemished reputation. Yet you find yourself perpetually teetering on the brink of extinction and oblivion, wondering why no one’s listening anymore and your sales are plateauing. A quick look at the market around you and it strikes; growth and success in the age of Digital Darwinism takes much more than ‘strong, stable, and unblemished.’

Back when the first notably great, soon-to-be-legendary ads were launched, DDB’s “Think Small” and N.W. Ayer’s “A Diamond is Forever,” for example, we lauded the creative genius behind them, the courage to be different, and their spectacular ROAS. We look back and recognize the mark they made and trends they set in advertising history. It was, however, an acutely different era of content creation, with a meager fraction of the competition for consumer attention that brands face today. No doubt, the real life Don Drapers produced valuable work, but there is something to be said about the type of content that fights, survives and even thrives in today’s cutthroat environment.

The average consumer in 2014 gets hit with over 5,000 messages a day, across all channels. Which means that an enormous majority of those messages are ignored, the few that are actually noticed are not often remembered, and the ones remembered are seldom shared. If consumers listen, notice, and share – you can be sure that the content you produced was something meaningful, of substantial entertainment value, or stood out as supremely kick-ass. A re-tweet, share, pin, repost, even a basic copy & paste, are all activities saved for the content that consumers really want people in their circles to see. And let’s be real, nobody wants to be the one to share mildly funny, moderately entertaining, or borderline outrageous content. Old Spice “Real Man,” Kony 2012, and certain YouTube clips of Jersey Shore prove just so.

Digital Darwinism, or the weeding out of all mediocre content, thus dictates that only the funniest, most insightful, most disturbing and most likely to entertain, aka the most shareable content, will survive. We are left with a thin layer of content that is capable of slicing through clutter to survive and reproduce; thriving on social media networks, email threads, Pinterest boards and touted as iconic or the standard for what good content should look, sound, and make you feel like. What we are creating, is a display case of content that will stand to represent this era in cultural and advertising history. It will speak for this phase of content creation unlike any before it – where everything we save and share and archive is shockingly horrible or utterly hilarious or just the sweetest thing; an extreme of sorts.

Indeed there is clear cause for alarm here. The effects of Digital Darwinism requires one to step back and wonder, what will be said of this time period? What will the post-Golden Era of advertising have to show for itself, a display case collection of our time’s most extreme content? Is that an accurate reflection of our society? Are we setting a dangerous mold by asking for an industry in which only extreme subjects, personalities, and content fare well? If so, what happens to a society without mediocre content? Have we raised the bar or have we merely altered our perceptions of good quality?

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