Modern communication ‘breakthroughs’ that fizzled

Foursquare and QR codes are among the purported ‘game-changers’ that didn’t significantly alter the commercial landscape.

Remember when AOL dominated the Web? Or when MySpace was the social network? Or when Facebook was the best way for brands to “have conversations” with younger audiences? (Ask a millennial what they like most about Facebook.)

Fancy-pants marketing experts have been gracing us with their forecasting for years, ever so proud to predict how this or that gizmo will “change marketing forever.” Few of these predictions stand the test of time, largely because the fundamentals of the relationship between buyer and seller are rather impervious to the dynamism of technology and evolving media consumption habits.

Remember these, once the sweethearts of marketers and media, and how they were supposed to change “everything”?


When’s the last time you checked in somewhere? When’s the last time a brand effectively influenced that action or elicited a meaningful reaction from you that “changed marketing forever”?


True, there are many who do podcasting extremely well. For those who once envisioned a day when their subject matter experts and brand managers would be consistently spending scant time and resources creating media-rich content on a regular, syndicated basis, the future is not what it used to be.

QR codes

Zap. Go to website. Profits.

The customers will do that, right? What could be easier? (I once had someone ask me if they should put a QR code on their website, by the way. Make of that what you will.)

Automated social media posting tools

It turns out, no one wants to engage with a robot. Who knew?

Peer review sites (e.g., Yelp, Glassdoor)

On one hand, you have insipid trolls with an ax to grind. On the other, you have competitors posting fake negative reviews against each other. On yet another, you have company representatives posting fake glowing reviews to “push down the bad stuff.”

Does anyone trust anything you read on these sites anymore? Brands can’t ignore these sites, exactly, but consumers have learned to separate the wheat from the chaff. This is why sites like Angie’s List haven’t exactly “changed everything.”

Satellite/subscription radio

Finally—no advertising! Consumers will be leaving terrestrial radio in droves.

Er, not quite. The migration has been somewhat negligible. Even subscription services, such as Pandora, still earn a vast majority of their revenue from advertising versus their ad-free subscription model. So much for “no advertising.”


With digital video recorders and video on demand services (Hulu, Netflix, e.g.) proliferating, nobody watches commercials anymore, right?

Ask the next person you meet whether they like Apple’s TV ads. Or what their least favorite TV ad is. The answer may surprise you. That this person will have an answer dispels the notion that “nobody watches commercials anymore.” (Seems to me I read something somewhere about the Super Bowl and advertising revenue/efficacy. I could be wrong.)

The Internet

OK, OK, let’s not get crazy. The Internet truly has changed the way commerce happens, the way people vet and finalize purchasing decisions, and how brands communicate with consumers.

However, what hasn’t changed are time-tested fundamentals germane to the brand-consumer relationship. Brand managers still must tell compelling stories that effectively illustrate product benefits from the user’s standpoint.

In many cases, connections have to happen on an emotional level through effective storytelling platforms. (Television, yes; “likes” and clicks, not so much.)

How and where you tell that story may be open to a whole new landscape of media options, but the Internet didn’t kill off every traditional medium. It didn’t make reaching consumers as easy as a click or two; some might argue (as I do) that it’s more difficult than ever to truly reach a potential buyer. And it didn’t make instant category killers out of companies with bad products, poor customer service and flawed brand execution.

In other words, the more things change, the more they stay the same.

Tom Nixon co-founder and chief marketing alchemist at Alchemy, where a version of this article first appeared.

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