The Name's Garfield, And I Was A Grumpy Cat First

Grumpy-Cat-BThe first thing is, if you want to have a little chuckle, imagine me dropping into SXSW for four days. Yeah -- 30,000 hipsters with knit caps, top knots, black-rimmed specs and piercings… plus me. I am 1000 years old and the only metal I will ever put in my body will be a replacement hip. The young delegates swarmed funkily from panel to panel, bar to bar, saying things like “No worries” and “It’s all good” and “Sweet!” I trudged along saying things like, “Oy” and “How do you do?” and “Where are my pills?”

When I hear the word “media,” I tend to think of television and newspapers. They think of Instagram. They build apps. I take naps. I grew up on Top Cat. They download Grumpy Cat. (And on that subject, how does she get to be a meme? I’ve been grumping for decades and have a large body of work. Plus thumbs. This pisses me off.)

Anyway, generation gap or no, I made my Austin hajj to lecture the digerati on how to understand the media world coalescing around them. Two large audiences of interactivists, half-shaven and dressed in rags, gaped at me, their eyes wide and expressions hungry. It looked like steerage on the Lusitania. Given my reputation for irritability and pessimism, perhaps they feared what I had to say.

They needn’t have, however. I made this pilgrimage bearing emphatically unapocalyptic tidings. The occasion was the launch of Can’t Buy Me Like, in which Doug Levy and I outline sweeping changes in commerce that will yield a more open, more humane, more purposeful business world and society at large.

The gist is this: four forces are converged to render obsolete the opaque, high-handed practices of commerce we’ve grown grudgingly accustomed to. The first force is the disintegration of mass media into tiny fragments, denying advertisers and all institutions of mass reach for their self-serving messages. The second is forced transparency; institutions that used to operate from within solid fortresses are now in Internet-exposed glass houses, their every action and inaction easily accessed and Google-able in perpetuity.

The third force is social media, where all that information is the common currency of social chatter. And the fourth force is the societal shift -- proven both by longitudinal attitudinal data and business-performance metrics -- that the public trust in institutions is now informed more by perceived strong values and good conduct than even the intrinsic quality of the goods and services themselves.

The upshot is the Relationship Era, wherein businesses must earn respect and admiration to prosper. The penalty for misbehavior is dear and the benefit of public trust is priceless. If I’m right, for the first time in the history of commerce, businesses will not only be able to -- but will be obliged to cleave to -- all the standards of ordinary interpersonal relationships, versus the venal culture of maximizing shareholder value by any and all means. Thus, the book offers as its bottom-line advice (and forgive the business jargon): “Don’t be a dick.”

Surely that idea would resonate at SXSW. But did it? Difficult to tell. On the day of my second lecture, I first headed for a book interview in a tent sponsored by the social-media news site Mashable. My slot was at 2 p.m., and as I arrived, the queue of Lusitanians was wrapped clear around the block. Many had been standing in line for hours. All these young interactivists gathered there to see a notorious curmudgeon? Wow.

Well, yes and no. Come to discover, there was another attraction appearing at the same time -- one with a pretty big name, but no thoughts on the emerging Relationship Era or on a humane new model of commerce.

The line had formed for Grumpy Cat.

9 comments about "The Name's Garfield, And I Was A Grumpy Cat First".
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  1. Ted Rubin from The Rubin Organization / Return on Relationship, March 18, 2013 at 9:01 a.m.

    Relationships are like muscle tissue, the more you engage them, the stronger and more valuable they become.

    It's all about Relationships! ROR :-)

  2. John Andrews from The Katadhin Company, March 18, 2013 at 9:02 a.m.

    Great article Bob. I think your assessment of the driver's of change is right on.

  3. Jonathan Hutter from Northern Light Health, March 18, 2013 at 9:06 a.m.

    All that new media, and you were there to hawk your book?

  4. Janet Chiu from CyberTurf Strategic Media, March 18, 2013 at 11:13 a.m.

    You have nailed the changes, although to a 20-something you are explaining a history they haven't experienced.

    You managed to comment as well on what hasn't changed: People in the media world are still focused on being cool, above all else!

  5. Amber Gregory from Triggerfish Marketing, March 18, 2013 at 11:27 a.m.

    Sadly this change -- which has been evolving for several years -- is the reason I will probably never attend SXSW. Too bad. If I'd gone a decade ago it would have been more relevant and genuine in every way.

  6. Farnaz Wallace from Farnaz Global, LLC, March 18, 2013 at 3:21 p.m.

    I had big chuckles, lol, great piece Bob...and I would've thought you were preaching to the choir at sxsw...and of course always good for Gen Y to hear what they don't teach in business textbooks....question is how are you getting through to the Corporate stiffs?

  7. Tom Messner from BONACCOLTA MESSNER, March 18, 2013 at 5:29 p.m.

    "that the public trust in institutions is now informed more by perceived strong values and good conduct than even the intrinsic quality of the goods and services themselves."
    This should be worthy of another column or even a book. I read a lot of (too many actually) advertising/marketing/media books a few years ago and saw the big difference between old school (Rosser Reeves, Claude Hopkins et al) and new school to be precisely that observation.
    Not a positive development, I thought.

  8. Dan Patio Dalton from Content That Works, March 18, 2013 at 7:25 p.m.

    Bob, the "Don't be a dick" bit - spot on. I busted out laughing.

  9. Bob Garfield from MediaPost, March 18, 2013 at 7:30 p.m.

    Thanks everyone for the comments. Now kind close the circle by buying the book, tweeting the book, Amazon reviewing the book, buying copies for friends.
    Thank you.

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