Blogs & Comment

Please enjoy AOL “Digital Prophet” David Shing’s deeply weird marketing video

The joke's on us

Meet David Shing. His title at AOL is “Digital Prophet.” And he is excited for what 2014 could mean for brands and people.

In a perverse way, this video epitomizes what marketing looks like in 2014: it’s deliberately awkward, aping the lo-fi production values of ’80s public-access television for cheap nostalgia. It’s carpeted in hypey buzzwords and technological hand-waving (wearable computing, the “quantified self,” “curated experiences”). And it is fundamentally an advertisement for AOL that is masquerading as agenda-free “content.”

Shing has been appearing in the press more and more recently, clearly sent out to build awareness for AOL’s advertising division. Lots of bloggers seem to love making fun of how he looks, with the Whitesnake hair-do and the black nail polish and the aggressively chunky eyewear and so on. I think they miss the point, which is that his strange personal style is precisely calculated to make us look twice, one of the hardest things to do in today’s media landscape. It’s particularly crucial in this case, because what Shing is actually saying in this video is incredibly banal—a boilerplate grab-bag of vague predictions you could have heard at any TED talk in any of the last five years.

So yes, there’s plenty to laugh at here, and lots of people are. But don’t forget that the strategy seems to be working: AOL’s most recent results showed a 23% increase in advertising revenue last quarter. The only thing worse than being talked about, as Oscar Wilde famously wrote, is not being talked about, and this is truer in the ad business than almost any other.