Wednesday, 6 August 2008

i am

If an alien arrived on earth one of the first things it would note about our species was how much time we spent with each other. 'Humans are social creatures' it might jot down (see Cartwright and Zander, 1953).

If it had been around for a while, it might have added 'but this has been decreasing in the last few decades' (Putnam, 2000). And, maybe if it had been paying special attention, it might scribble something like 'increasingly people have fewer others with whom to discuss their most intimate thoughts and feelings' (McPherson, Smith-Lovin, & Brashears, 2006).

As Ybarra et al (2008) sum up,
The success of the social networks is probably in no small part because they strengthened and made explicit these withering social connections we all naturally crave.

Orange's new campaign, which orbits around the strap line ‘I am’, mines this too.

What does 'I am' mean?

Simply, you are better off working together than you are by yourself, thus necessitating communication technology. You are the sum of the people you communicate with.

One of the nice things about this strategy is that it is actually true. It's not that staple of advertising - myth-making - but a statement of something fundamental about human interaction and that makes it fresh.

For one, you are smarter working together. Ybarra et al (2008) writing in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin found that social interaction (as little as 10 minutes) improved intellectual performance.

More social contact is correlated with well-being (Sinha & Verma, 1990; Triandis et al., 1986) and its absence is marked by depression (Gladstone, Parker, Malhi, & Wilhelm, 2007).

There is even some evidence to show that after controlling for level of health, fewer social connections are linked to an increased risk of death (House, Landis, & Umberson, 1988). Yikes!

Orange is in the relationship business, not the mobile phone business any more.

And not only the relationships between each other but the relationships between all our different digital identities.

'I am' Facebook, Flickr, Blogger, YouTube, Amazon, Vimeo, Google, Dopplr, Wikipedia,, Stumble Upon the list goes on....

This unruly mass of services exists and yet there is nothing to tie them all together.

That is, until Orange’s offering, My Social Place, hits the scene in the autumn soldering all our online identities into one ball.

So ‘I am’ is a strategy that is timely in two ways. It fosters and facilitates being social, something we all need but aren't getting enough of. And it is digitally prescient, preparing for communicative life beyond simple mobile. More evidence of marketing and service dancing together so fast you can tell who's who.

But there is a final bit of cleverness in here. The social thing and the digital thing, as well as being two separate but rather nifty uses of the same strategy for ordinary people, are also commercially adroit when holding hands. As Cory Doctorow, in a speech at Cambridge last month, explains,
"The thing that the Internet is even better at than providing universal access to all human knowledge is nuking collaboration costs, getting rid of the cost of getting people together to do stuff…[This is] what allows us to be literally superhuman. That is to say that if you and someone else can do something that transcends that which you could do alone, then you have done something that is more than one human can do and is superhuman." (around 19 mins in)
'I am' in this sense perhaps acknowledges that what's around the corner is really big collaboration online and on-phone. And Orange is going to be a company to help out with all of that in its services, the branding seed of which is being planted now.

Pity the execution isn't more exciting and less pretentious. Still, early days.

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