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By Michael Neubarth
In 1994, Alan Meckler, CEO of Mecklermedia, hired Christopher Locke away from CMP Media to create MecklerWeb, one of the first online business hubs. I was editor-in-chief of Internet World magazine at Mecklermedia at the time, and Locke wrote a monthly column for Internet World.
In his columns, Locke criticized the corporate mass marketing establishment and chided corporations for their "command-and-control" mentality and tendency to force workers to "check their brains at the door."
For example, in "Power Rap" in November 1994, Locke wrote:
"Those that have smashed the notion of command-and-control hierarchies will have learned to listen. Those that have learned to listen to their own people-and put what they've heard to work-may be qualified to enter into a real discourse with their markets."
Locke saw the Internet as a liberating medium that would empower customers and free them from the shackles of corporate marketing. The Internet, he argued, could be a liberating force for corporations willing to give up top-down control and allow employees to converse with customers, allow customers to have input into products and services, and allow employees have more input into the business. This, he argued, would bring about positive change-better products and services, honest dialogue, happier workplaces.
Foreshadowing the era of social media that has now arrived, Locke wrote that:
"If your people truly understand what they're doing, genuinely care about their work, and are empowered to speak for themselves on your behalf, you could well become a major force in the business of the next century."
MecklerWeb was folded and Locke left Mecklermedia, but he continued to be an outspoken critic of corporate marketing and a proponent of the type of corporate Internet engagement we now see occurring through social media. Indeed, for the last 15 years, Locke has been tirelessly stumping the idea of the social Internet, predicting the downfall of a corporate marketing culture that, in his view, was a dark and evil marketing empire.
Traditional marketing , he wrote in 2001 in "Gonzo Marketing" is "manipulative, intrusive, gimmick-ridden, and inherently dishonest." Marketing, he said, "is a black art - and it's getting blacker by the minute."
Moreover, Locke asserted, "Through the reputation so many corporations have developed for self-serving consumer manipulation, marketers have lost credibility. Today the market is connected, networked. Consumers are talking among themselves."
When the Walls Come Down
Like the fall of the Berlin Wall, many observers say we are witnessing the collapse of the command-and-control power of corporate mass marketing. Moreover, the then-radical vision that Locke and like-minded marketers were articulating in the mid-1990s has been assimilated into the mainstream mindset and messaging of today's marketing, advertising, and PR practitioners.
For example, Edleman PR on its Edelman.com site tells us:
"We believe that the traditional model of top-down communications, where 90%+ of a marketing budget is spent on advertising to talk at people, is simply no longer effective."
Likewise, Burson-Marsteller on its site tells us that:
"Access to new technologies and information has dramatically changed communications, enabling everyone to consume, create, share and edit information on their own terms. This has created a culture that values individual voices over corporate ones and that celebrates participation and has created a need for companies to change the way they have traditionally interacted with stakeholders."
Says Bob Geller, SVP at Fusion PR, on his Flack's Revenge blog writes:
"It has occurred to me that the reason most companies (and corporate marketing departments in particular) just don't get it when it comes to social media is that they are having a hard time leaving behind the rapidly receding world of asymmetrical communications - i.e., of top down, 'command and control' programs, where the marketing department pushes out messages in one direction, generally with and through various media channels."
Visit the Web sites of almost any advertising, PR, and marketing agency and you'll find them saying something similar.
Seth Godin, considered one of the leading lights in marketing today, wrote in "Meatball Sundae," published in 2007:
"New marketing doesn't understand top down command-and-control thinking. It's actually caveman marketing, the sort of marketing that existed before money and corporations took over."