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A Peek Into the Scandalous Future of Hyper-Influence Marketing

Marketing campaigns are about to get more sophisticated, and the metrics to quantify success, much more refined


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Television producers have never been more in demand. With both Facebook and Apple recently announcing their own $1 billion budgets for creating original video content, the entertainment industry is about to enter a whole new era with premium content creating the latest high stakes battlefield.

The amount of money directed at the production of original content is now reaching epic proportions, with Netflix, Amazon and HBO adding more than $12 billion this year to the mushrooming video storytelling economy.

Once reserved for the movie-making elite, the production of modern television programming is now the playground of choice for the tech industry, one that also specializes in extreme data manipulation.

Combine this with the fact that video is the most influential medium of our times, and we begin to get a glimmer of how tech companies will leverage their newfound influence in unusual ways.

Over the coming years we will see a shift from simply selling ads to the sale of custom tailored, hyper-influence packages.

With today’s intricately woven viewer analytics, along with with instantly modifiable content and tightly monitored feedback loops, we move from merely targeting industry segments to laser focusing on an audience of one.

That’s precisely where we will begin to see scandals unfold.

Critical decision makers are few and far between, and the influence they wield may be staggering. For this reason, finding inconspicuous ways of swaying the key individuals may be worth millions, if not billions.

As an example, one of today’s hottest topics in the tech industry is immigration, with strong arguments forming on both sides. We also see game-changing decisions in this area made by only a handful of people.

If a series of campaigns was established to specifically sway the thinking of those people, along with colleagues, staffers and their families, some of the tools may include persuasive commentary from influential characters on a sitcom or action dramas, personally relevant background statistics leaked into news blurbs, hidden messages, subliminal underscores and mind-shifting plot twists, all accompanied by a web of social media conversations.

These push points will be designed to modify opinions and move the influence meter ever-so-slightly one direction or the other. Those who are likely to be swayed will be rewarded with warm hugs of subtle recognition and “attention smiles” beamed in ways that will seem nothing short of magical.

THE MONEYBALL OF INFLUENCE

We are quickly moving into the Moneyball phase of data-crafted influence.

While most people are aware of placement, few are familiar with other emerging tools of hyper-influence such as:

  • CAUSE PLACEMENT - As our ability to communicate, influence and organize increases, the likelihood of violence decreases. Every cause masterpiece can be repainted with a new kind of “noble purpose brush.”
  • CONTEXTUAL NARRATIVE ARGUMENTS - Many times writers feel passionate about a controversial issue but realize traditional arguments will fall on deaf ears. In these situations, the context can be rearranged to shed new light on outdated reasoning.
  • CHARACTER ENDORSEMENTS – Sometimes an endorsement by Han Solo is far more effective than one by Harrison Ford.
  • SUBLIMINAL SOUNDTRACKS – Catchy tunes with a message inside the message.
  • INNER CIRCLE CAMPAIGNS
  • HYPER INDIVIDUALIZED PROGRAMMING - Where plots, character clothing, speech and background sets shift to match demographic models for each distinct viewer household.

Over the coming years the number of tools inside the influencer toolbox will grow exponentially.

We are moving far past the original experiments that created Netflix’s hit show, “House of Cards,” that tested storyline themes for maximum appeal and reverse engineered the plot to not only hook the viewer but amplify ratings.

Stepping past the established fixed product approach to programming, the same “Game of Thrones” episode you just completed may indeed be different from the one your neighbors watch because of an A.I.-infused plot modulator designed to contextually rescript key scenes based on each viewer’s personality quirks.

THE POWER OF VIDEO

This year, video content will represent 74 percent of all Internet traffic. When people receive information audibly, they're likely to remember only 10 percent of it three days later. However, if that same information is paired with a video, retention jumps to over 65 percent.

Here’s a quick snapshot of video’s growing role in our daily lives:

  • Cisco projects that global internet traffic from videos will make up 80 percent of all internet traffic by 2019.
  • Roughly 76.5 percent of marketers and small business owners in an Animoto survey who have used video marketing say it had a direct impact on their business.
  • 34 percent of business-to-consumer marketers say pre-produced video will be critical to content marketing success in 2017. 
  • Nearly four times as many consumers would prefer to watch a video about a product than to read about it.
  • More than 60 percent of marketers and small business owners said they planned to increase investment in video marketing in 2017.
  • 62 percent of B2B marketers rated videos as an effective content marketing tactic in 2016.
  • Even using the word “video” in an email subject line boosts open rates by 19 percent, and click-through rates by 65 percent.
  • Facebook users watch 8 billion videos per day, while Snapchat users watch 10 billion videos per day.

WHEN IS FICTION OK?

With this newfound power, there will naturally be some who choose to use it for evil rather than good, and indeed there will be a very fine line ethically between being a purveyor of lies and those who spin arguments in their favor.

Using the previous example of immigration, having all the characters that people love-to-hate make profoundly stupid arguments in support of immigration bans will likely cause people to form the opposite opinion. For those firmly guided by their own moral compass, will that still fall within ethical bounds?

If someone uses fabricated statistics to heighten anxiety and create a false sense of fear, do the ends justify the means?

To me, the most troubling part of these campaigns is that most decisions will be made in darkrooms, far removed from the check-and-balance of open scrutiny.

The fact that these hyper-individualized promotions will be super discrete and anonymous may be their most compelling feature.

THE ROLE OF ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE

Its easy to envision a number of ways that A.I. may be added to these campaigns, but once a target or set of targets has been established, a list of objectives can be put into a special campaign driver along with a list of the primary tools to be used.

At a certain point, the amount of data sorted through for an effective campaign will far exceed any human’s ability to orchestrate it.

As the A.I. campaign progresses through a series of trial and error approaches, getting smarter with every feedback loop it completes, the number of targeted impressions will climb until either some defining action takes place or a predetermined end date has been reached.

If it sounds like people are as easy to sway as unwitting pawns, it’s because most are. Virtually every yes, no, or buy decision boils down to the right combination needs and stimuli.

Marketing campaigns are about to get far more sophisticated, and the metrics we use to quantify success, much more refined.

What we view as a first-rate influence marketing campaign today will soon appear crude and unrefined just a few months from now. Each will grow in complexity and cleverness as the tools at our disposal grow exponentially.

Most of the techniques I’ve mentioned are already in play. The big difference, though, will be the turbocharged, fully automated, instantly responsive, 10,000-stimuli-a-second version of them.

To many, this may appear to be a scary, even alarming perspective of our future, but wherever there’s a problem, there’s also an opportunity.

As these tools for influence and control become more common, so will the tools for defeating them. Throughout history, as long as people have lived on earth, we’ve had an arms race of influence. Even though the tools look vastly different, it still boils down to a controller vs. controlee battleground, and that will never change.

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Thomas Frey

Thomas Frey is the executive director and senior futurist at the DaVinci Institute and currently Google’s top-rated futurist speaker.  At the Institute, he has developed original research studies, enabling him to speak on unusual topics, translating trends into unique opportunities. Tom continually pushes the envelope of understanding, creating fascinating images of the world to come.  His talks on futurist topics have captivated people ranging from high level of government officials to executives in Fortune 500 companies including NASA, IBM, AT&T, Hewlett-Packard, Unilever, GE, Blackmont Capital, Lucent Technologies, First Data, Boeing, Ford Motor Company, Qwest, Allied Signal, Hunter Douglas, Direct TV, Capital One, National Association of Federal Credit Unions, STAMATS, Bell Canada, American Chemical Society, Times of India, Leaders in Dubai, and many more. Before launching the DaVinci Institute, Tom spent 15 years at IBM as an engineer and designer where he received over 270 awards, more than any other IBM engineer.

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