Marketing and the hyperreal

In Pattern Recognition, a novel by “cyberpunk” writer William Gibson, one of the many intriguing characters the reader meets is Magda, a young woman who works freelance for an advertising agency to help finance her art as a hat maker. She is paid by the agency to go to carefully selected social venues, and while casually chatting with people she meets, mention a new clothing label, a film recently released or a new product on the market. It’s not a pitch, just a casual, favorable mention.

Or, if a person she meets mentions a specific product, say a man in a bar that seems attracted to her, then she is paid to say that she likes that product too. The agency’s objective is not to create immediate consumers of a particular product, but that the information is recycled by people to others: a viral model.

As time goes by, however, something begins to happen to Magda. When she is out for an evening of leisure, not working, having a cocktail perhaps, she may meet someone and they begin talking. And that person might casually mention a designer, a film, or a product in the course of their conversation. Magda then stops cold, no longer able to enjoy her social interaction. She begins to distrust people, distrust their authenticity. She doesn’t know what is real anymore.

The notions of ‘authentic’ and ‘real’ in our high-speed world of multi-environment marketing have been slowly moving toward the center of our collective storyline for some time now. Yet, the ‘real’ versus the ‘simulated’ have no clear boundaries or shared definitions. The philosopher Jean Baudrillard puts forth that a simulacrum is not simply a copy of the real, but that it becomes a truth in its own right – it becomes the hyperreal. In essence: the simulated becomes the reality.

But what does one do with these ideas? Their implications are as much philosophical as they are practical. We continuously make decisions regarding the communication strategies of our projects and products that intersect with questions of authenticity, whether we have paused to think about this or not.

It could be that it is entirely up to each one of us to develop marketing paradigms and content that reflect our own personal values. Better yet: that illuminate our own values.

This will not be done for us from the outside. And, there is no clear map, no clear set of rules. Here we stand, stripped down to our essence, with nothing but desire and intention to guide us through the changing labyrinth of possibilities.

Magda’s story could, at least, serve as one of the guiding voices in our quest: her acts of simulation finally folded themselves back onto her, and she began to doubt the people around her – the real had become indistinguishable from the hyperreal.

She yearned for authenticity.

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