Revolution of the Ants.
i was recently at the Fortune Brainstorm conference in Aspen and had some lively debate around this concept. i have believed for a long time that the American people (especially the new Internet generation) are ready for a revolution of sorts...that the 'ants', that is everyone who lacks real power, in voice and impact, are inately programmed to come together, find their joint power and rise up to democratize the institutions that make up their lives - media, political, and financial. i can point to examples of this already starting to occur in each...
media democratization- the rise of indy films as a genre and specifically Farenheit 911. these are not the annointed picks of hollywood but rather the people expressing their choice. F911 outgrossed the two hollywood picks - dodgeball and white something - despite being distributed to half the screens and lacking any real marketing budget. the people spoke.
politics being democratized - the impressive (though ultimately unsuccessful) campaigns of Dean for president and Gonzalez for sf mayor. both were outsiders, non-politicians. Dean had never run a real campaign even for vermont governor. Gonzalez announced his candidacy 3 months prior and ran a non-campaign. yet in both the ants found a place to self-organize, to make the campaigns their own. believe me, nobody was jumping up and down on street corners yelling 'vote for gavin'. not one window in the mission had a 'gavin, together we can' sign. not one pickup truck or mini had the odd brown colored gavin for mayor sticker. today there are still windows in the mission proudly displaying Gonzalez posters as an enduring sign that the battle was lost but the revolution lives on.
it simply amazes me that after the astonishing emergence of dean to moveon.org that the establishment still doesnt get it. this sunday's nytimes mag had a cover story talking about how a bunch of rich philanthropists and venture capitalists are coming together to create their own 'back room' 'progressive' power base to counter that of the religious right. just strikes me as funny that these guys can think that their elite power base is ok if it's in the name of 'progressive' politics which is i suppose their estimate of what the people really want. how about just changing the power structure so that a bunch of rich white guys cant decide what's best for everyone else? does it bother anyone that kerry was a member of the same secret skulll and bones yale society as bush? that these guys supposedly all help each other get jobs and power? that a third of bush's cabinet is from this same elitist group?
financial institutions are showing a few signs of democracy - the one obvious and powerful example being the google ipo. how cool is it that a company built by ants on nothing more than bright ideas can dictate terms to the world's most powerful bankers...and that they choose to favor the rest of the ants (who happen to be google's customers). it is soo cool to finally see a company built by ants choosing to reward them with an ipo that offers them the same purchasing power as all the best goldman clients. and i would have loved to have sat in on the board meeting where sergei and larry informed their vc's and other directors that the only way google was going public was with a second controlling class stock that would enable them to ensure their company 'did no evil'. i dont care how much criticism they take for it and how many money managers say they wont buy the stock, that is as good as it gets for the ant revolution. i hope google stays true to those ants and grows to be an institution promoting ant power throughout our society.
How might the Ant Revolution effect Advertising?
i argued at Brainstorm on one heated panel (with sir martin sorrell, ceo of wpp, the world's largest ad firm) that the internet generation wants to talk to each other and will no longer sit and passively absorb marketing messages. if mcluhan was right and the message is the medium, then these people have a big message for the commercial medium and it's largely 'leave us alone'. sir martin had a different take, that the medium never really changes and you just have to adjust the message to meet the times. he sees his mission as helping nestle sell 3% more units next year (and btw that is what he's paid to do). however, i still believe that more enlightened advertisers both image and action focused will start to support and participate in the revolution as pepsi did so brilliantly with their recent super bowl ad which met the internet gen on their own level and participated in a dialog saying 'something is wrong with a society that calls you a criminal' so 'we're going to support you and offer 100 million free music downloads'.