Brands can't control their fortunes in new world of digital

There are two things we can read into the latest data from the IAB about online advertising spend in the first six months of 2008.

The first is that despite the optimism of the increased spend, it would be a foolish person who drew too much of a conclusion from it.

There's a 21% surge in spend online in the first six months of 2008.

However, this will be very much a year of two halves, as the latest gloom from the Bellwether Report about slashed marketing budgets indicates.

The second is about the growth in online display, which has moved ahead (even if not quite at the same speed as search and classified), indicating increased confidence in the use of video on the internet by advertisers.

While online video advertising is still a growth sector in the UK, there is a corner of the world where the power of video to communicate online and via mobiles is creating a need for radical thinking on the part of the forces of democracy.

In war-torn Afghanistan, the West is losing the propaganda war to the Taliban, which has a virtual monopoly on producing and distributing the video content that circulates on the country's six million mobiles and among its 500,000 internet users.

In response, the UK Government is considering using non-governmental organisations to give away free mobile phones to Afghan citizens so they can make their own video diaries to put forward an alternative point of view.

In a way, this is nothing new.

In World War II, both the Allies and the Nazis used radio broadcasts to undermine each other's regimes.

However, there is something different about the nature of this solution, which is not producing content and aiming it at the audience, but putting the means for messages to undermine the propaganda threat from the Taliban into the hands of the people who it is hoped, but not guaranteed, will use it for that purpose. Transforming it from alternative propaganda into someone's truth.

New technologies might have made the world less unfair in a way by giving everyone the ability to make a movie about their point of view and distribute it.

New media are making a difference to politics around the world, just as they are making a difference to brands.

But exactly how a brand's fortunes are shaped is harder to dictate today than it used to be in the old world of controlled advertising.

Sue Unerman is chief strategy officer at MediaCom, sue.unerman@haymarket.com

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