The Internet Elephant: Your One-Time “Promotion” and its Persistence

We are used to the world of internet communication as an ephemeral, “one-time” communication. Send your email or IM communication and it disappears, without a sound, into the ether. But at least some of those communications are permanently cached and indexed. We’re seeing this today in product placement and promotion, and in the future will likely see similar behavior with tweets, statuses, and emails. The internet is an Elephant with a long memory.

Take the 2006 Jones Soda Thanksgiving Pack as an example that may shed some light on our future consumption of personal communication. Jones creates a limited-edition soda pack every year to drive buzz. In the olden (pre-Internet, 20th century) days, marketers would create limited edition packages that most people might forget. The 6 pack of Thanksgiving Meal flavored sodas was one of a string of innovative and attention-getting soda packs from Jones that emphasized the Jones brand: irreverent, sugared (instead of corn-syrup sweetened, and fun). This was supposed to be a limited-time phenomenon. But almost three years later, the Jones Soda photograph referenced above and a blog post I made in early 2009 are some of my most widely hit posts/photos.

What’s the message to be gained? The internet is an Elephant with a cyclical memory. Search engines and site such as Flickr and Facebook allow consumers to show their support for limited editions, ask for cancelled products to be returned, and even (in the extreme case) campaign for fake products to be made real (think of “Email n’ Walk”, the iPhone app that started out as an April Fool’s joke. The web archive allows you to see cached versions of prior web sites and see the web as it was a few days, months, or years ago. Yet this “memory” or “nostalgia” is not easy to parse. Who published it? What was the original intent? These questions become less relevant when the content is separated from the original marketing campaign.

So what can we learn from the persistence of the Jones Soda Thanksgiving promotion? One-time promotions for products Jones are easy to find: the Internet makes it possible to search among user-generated content and official information. We should apply the same principles to the way that we find information about people and companies with whom we communicate. The ability to verify the communication as “authentic” and to build critical thinking abilities will be crucial in the future for users to validate these communications, improve the ability of marketers to get their message out in the blogosphere/real-time search world, and for consumers to find the products and services they want (not just the ones they find). What does that mean for the Internet Elephant? It will continue to remember, so ensure that the communications you’re placing out there in the world are ones you want it to share days, months, and years from now.

Jones Soda Thanksgiving Holiday Pack (2006)

Chris Anderson’s Long Tail idea is that in a (nearly) frictionless environment like the Internet, the margins of commerce (ideas, products, etc) can collectively provide as much (or more) interest as the Top 10 or 20 ideas or products that dominate the headlines and balance sheets. Digital media like music follows this formula best, but as distribution methods (think Twitter) get wider and wider and the cost to mass customize a product shrinks, new product areas are emerging that aren’t quite like the digital media world yet behave that way on the internet.

I think that the Jones Soda Thanksgiving Flavor 2006 Holiday pack was definitely one of those products and ideas that has gotten better over time. True, the soda was kind of disgusting. The Limited Edition page captures the essence of the marketing idea — making buzz with fizzy suds — but misses out on the other opportunities presented by the medium in my opinion.

If a picture of a six pack of soda is driving the most visitors to my Flickr page and you can’t even buy that product any more, I think you’ve got a successful meme. Other marketers have used this “limited edition” cache in recent years with digital goods (think Office Depot’s brilliant campaign Elf Yourself, by the JibJab folks, as a way to take advantage of a limited time offer while still building a future following), but Jones is missing the gravy boat, I think, by discontinuing the popular Thanksgiving pack.

So the next time you find yourself thinking about some goofy internet idea that you just can’t seem to let go of, think of the parts of your own business or service that present an indelible, show-stopping brand and make your offering more like Turkey Soda. Well, at least as memorable as Turkey Soda.

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