Internet Persistence and Why We Need To Change Our Mode of Thinking

The internet is a funny old place. Going through the list of people I follow on Twitter last night, I came across “Kronenbourg 1664″. In fact, it’s K1664Slow, a Twitter account from a campaign they ran a few years ago. You can still see the account and its tweets:

This is from, I think, a few years ago now when Kronenburg ran a campaign alongside a couple of well-known bands producing slowed-down versions of classic hits. As I recall, I followed them on Twitter because it was how you got the download code (the slow version of Ace of Spades is well worth a Twitter follow).

It’s rather old. Other than one post in April this year (more on which in a moment), the last activity was back in 2011. It’s forgotten about, thrown overboard. The flotsam and jetsam of digital advertising.

This is the thing with the internet. Stuff you put on there doesn’t disappear later. To borrow a term from computer programming, it persists. It continues to exist outside of the context it was originally meant for.

K1664 Slow was actually quite a good campaign (I really did like that version of Ace of Spades) but the internet doesn’t work like a campaign; it persists. Which means now, years after the fact, these elements still exist, glitches in the system.

Glitches because right now Kronenbourg doesn’t want me thinking about the Slow campaign; they’re doing something about the hops farmers of Alsace. I know this because when I went to the website in the K1664 Twitter feed – www.k1664.co.uk – it redirected to alsacenews.com.

I think this new campaign is some kind of ironic take on the farmers of the Alsace region of France. I’m not really sure. It certainly is very different from the Slow campaign, and certainly not anything like the content I was expecting to stumble across having re-discovered the K1664Slow twitter feed.

It’s a glitch in their system. It causes dissonance between what I expect to see and what I actually see. And that damages their brand.

Any digital asset that exists without the expenditure of media budget persists outside of the life of campaigns. Brands need to get used to this – their ideas now live outside of the traditional campaign system. Some examples:

  • Any and all twitter account set up for the campaign. If you delete them, then every single follower you gained is both a. lost and b. has a link to a non-existent Twitter account on their “People I Follow” tab (broken links are glitches too).
  • Any and all Facebook page created, or tabs created on an existing page. Again, if you delete them, the links in every one of your fans’ timelines now point to a broken page.
  • Any microsites created for the campaign (usually because the main site was for some reason incapable of supporting the campaign – this is not a reason to build a microsite by the way, this is a reason to fix your main site). These microsites will exist until the domain name expires in a few years.

But it doesn’t end there, because any URL shared during the campaign will continue to persist everywhere it was ever sent, shared, emailed or posted. And any time anyone clicks on that link, they’ll find either:

  1. Your old, out-of-date campaign, or
  2. A broken page. A 404 error message. A ‘site not found’ error message. A message that tells them your brand does not exist.

Neither of which are particularly great outcomes.

Brands need to get better at managing this, which brings us back to Kronenbourg.

Because they’ve actually tried, and, whilst I don’t mean to pick on them, it does serve as a good example of why this can be so tricky. Because the microsite URL does redirect to the new campaign. Because they did post into the K1664Slow twitter feed inviting people to the new campaign:

So what’s wrong with this? It’s just the two campaigns feel so different, so disconnected in their entirety, that they may as well be for different brands. Just because I was interested in K1664 Slow doesn’t mean I’m interested in a hipster Alsace hop farmer.

These glitches serve as visible histories of a brand. They tie a brand to its past, which impacts what that brand can say, authentically, in the future. In this environment, brands need to get better at telling consistent, long-term stories. Stories that can exist in isolation, but retain a connection to past stories. Brand-building outside of just one campaign.
As with so many things digital, this is not a new idea. This is what great brands have been doing for years. My point is that digital has increased the likelihood of this being noticed. In this instance digital persistence is serving as our collective memory; glitches in brand systems are more easily noticed.

In this persistent world, we need to pay much closer attention to the ever-increasing amounts of digital content we are releasing. We need to understand the ways in which it can and will persist, we need to understand when it will NOT persist. We need to accept that what we create doesn’t stop when the media budget does, that what we create now leaves visible history, a past remembered by the internet. We need to remember that this should shape our future – that we need to be persistent as the systems we now operate in.

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