Rethinking the curriculum

Last March a steamy paperback published by Harper Perennial wasn’t getting much traction in the mainstream press. Juvenile. Sexist. Offensive. So the publisher paid $10,000 to produce three risque’ videos and put them on Youtube, where it spread to Myspace. Two weeks later the book was in its third printing with over one million verified views online.

Publisher are paying attention. Advertisers are paying attention. Viral marketing like this turns traditional advertising and publishing on its ear. Educators should be paying attention too.

Examples

Here’s why:

  • A series of ten-minute films called the Hire, produced by BMW, was seen over 100 million times. Now BMW is producing a web-only TV show to promote its Mini Cooper: hammerandcoop.com.
  • Over a million people watched “lonelygirl15” talk about her first kiss. Purporting to be the musings of a home school girl playing with a webcam, the blog turned out to be a promo for an independent film.
  • A home-made (sort of) spoof of Hillary Clinton based on the famous 1984 Apple Computer ad has been watched on Youtube by over 3 million people- and discussed all over on TV and radio talk shows.

User generated content is the rage, with Suberbowl commercials created by amateurs and major companies racing to figure out how to compete in a world where the 30-second spot is not supreme and books like The Long Tail map business models for an economy driven not by hits but by an infinity of niches.

Observations

In this environment, a few trends will impact our programs and our students as advertisers and media outlets try to adapt.

Individualization. Search technologies will continue the drive toward an audience of one. With ad words, the messages on your screen already relate to the thing you searched for and this will become the standard for every medium. What John Battelle called a “database of desire” in Search will prove irresistible, the holy grail of marketing.

Localization. As this happens, the demand for local messages will also increase. For example, video for local merchants on web-based centers of community generated content will provide opportunities for students. Even when every computer screen becomes an individualized newspaper, TV and radio station, all news is still local.

Entertainment. Branded content and messages with high entertainment value will be at a premium. (Honda’s online only Civic ad in the United Kingdom is a good example. Good story telling with high aesthetic and technical standards will be at a premium, even in local markets. Opportunities for our students to produce, perform and publish original work will explode.

Implications

So what are the implications of all this for those of us called to teach students today who will live in tomorrow? I can think of three places to start:

Content. Students will have to do something and know something. Required minors or additional general educations courses, magazine subscriptions instead of textbooks, aggregators with RSS feeds for our specific classes; these are the sorts of things needed to keep students current and marketable.

Collaboration. Teamwork has to extend far beyond the largely ineffectual group projects we assigned today. Required work with collaborative tools such as wikis, and earnest useful collaboration on meaningful projects with working professionals should become the norm. New partnerships with industry professionals and web-based collaboration and media convergence should be commonplace.

Calling. In all this, our calling as Christians to “speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)” will distinguish us and our students. People who understand their message and their motive will succeed as the glut of information heightens a need for meaning. Why trumps what and how.

Things to read

The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture

The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business Is Selling Less of More

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About wally metts

Wally Metts is the daysman. He is director of graduate studies in communication at Spring Arbor University and is a pastor at Countryside Bible Church in Jonesville, MI. The father of four adult children, he and his wife Katie raise barn cats and Christmas trees in Michigan. His grandchildren call him Santa.

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