Home|Third Culture|Digerati|Reality Club

RUSHKOFF: Well, actually, I've sworn off all consulting. I started doing it as research for my Coercion book, and then got a bit carried away by the income. I stopped "cold turkey" a few months ago, in favor of teaching at NYU's Interactive Telecommunications Program, and am lot happier as a result.

When I did consult, I tried to use my "guru" position as a leverage point to subvert the more ruthless marketing techniques. Most companies simply want to know how to sell more stuff in less time — either by selling the same goods to more people, or more goods to the people they're already selling to. I argued that customer loyalty begins with genuinely good treatment, and not simply more camouflaged sales pitches. Some companies want to know how to sell online, and I usually showed them how to get out of the way. Don't try to create a sticky site that sucks people in; people don't want to be on fly paper. They don't want sticky experiences. Stickiness may be working in the short run — companies are having success with sites that you can only go in one way and that throw up windows all over the place and then send you lots of email and ask your permission to send you more email, infect you with cookies, and so on. But in the end people will react against these intrusions, and they'll react against the companies who did it to them.

I tried to give companies what I consider to be a more long-term strategy, which is give customers the most direct access to the thing they want, at the best price, with information about what it does, how much it costs, how much is it going to cost to ship it ‹ and get out of the way. Create tools that make it easier to figure out what computer or product or upgrade is best for the individual user. Let the customer upsell himself in good time. The best competitive advantage is going to be to offer either the best item, the best price, or the best service. Become transparent.

As far as marketing to youth culture, I tried to make companies aware of the destructive power of coercive marketing, and to see how expensive the arms race is getting for everyone. Young people eventually get wise to a company that offers nothing more than a brand strategy. Then the company has to spend millions retooling. I told them to "play nice."

I still like speaking to organizations who are nervous about the rapid development of the Internet — and executives who can't understand the market valuations of all these new Internet ventures. I've been telling them that the Internet is really just a Ponzie scheme. It's being driven by the needs of the investment community. The money needs a place to go. That's why the only companies actually making anything resembling earnings are online trading companies. They're simply conduits for more people at lower levels of the pyramid to buy in. I mean, what other industry besides a Ponzie scheme requires businesses to demonstrate an "exit strategy?" When they ask me what the ultimate Internet experience will look like, I tell them that they're already engaged in it: the frantic search for the next big Internet company to invest in is the ultimate Internet experience. The investors are the customers.

But the most interesting work was helping advertising agencies figure out what comes after advertising. They know their industry is almost obsolete. I think what will replace ads are sponsored media and applications. Rather than using advertisements to create brand images for products, we're going to have brands sponsoring media that is the entertainment or utility that reflects the brand attributes. I've helped an airline develop a Palm Pilot application for the global traveler, and a global phone company develop a world clock map on the Web. Instead of paying for advertisements, they can give things directly to their customers.

JB: Are you talking about things like corporate baseball parks?