OPINION23 February 2011

We are the future. Or are we?

Media agency PHD has found itself in the middle of a social media storm.

A few days ago the agency released a video online called We are the Future, which features some photogenic teenagers talking (as teenagers do) about the future of marketing. If you can make it through the whole two minutes without hiding behind your hands, you’re doing better than we did.

So far the video has racked up more than 36,000 views, and the reaction has been almost universally vicious. PHD soon realised they’d made a misjudgement. There’s already plenty of comment elsewhere on the internet about various aspects of the video and how PHD have handled the response – what interests us is what it can teach us as an insight case study.

If you look at the points made in the film, they’re actually pretty innocuous. OK, so it’s somewhat preoccupied with current technology fads, it’s couched in jargon and buzzwords that we’ll all have stopped using in a month’s time, and it seems almost designed to provoke the Bills Hicks response, but the general thrust of the predictions it makes is pretty standard in marketing circles.

In that sense, the raw insights appear to be sound. It’s the way they’ve been communicated that betrays a lack of understanding. If you’re aiming marketing materials at people who work in marketing, you need to get it right, and not many people seem to think PHD have achieved that.

Apart from anything else, it’s painful to listen to young people spout all the most nauseating examples of current marketing claptrap as if it were something terribly serious and important. The way the video has been produced (and handled) ends up undermining the points it tries to make by revealing a lack of understanding of young people, a wobbly grasp of social media and, fatally, a lack of understanding of the audience, which is people who work in marketing.

General discussions of the video continue to rage elsewhere, but if anyone in the research world has comments about the role (or not) of insight in this episode, do please add them below.