Online marketing trap: when community becomes commodity

Maybe it was the after-holidays blues, or perhaps that thirst for sunshine that hits after Winter.

For whatever reason, a few weeks ago I got bitter. Frustrated, uninspired, unmotivated, I started questioning what I wanted to do, what direction to head in, and how I could invite more meaningful practices into my life.

In other words, I spent time in the underworld. That dark, creative place we all go to from time to time – I know you know it.

Seeking wisdom around the web, I found myself reading philosophy articles, and listening to authors who are not afraid to talk about being human.

Clicking here and there, I landed on a part of the Internet that I really like. A more honest one. Ironically, at the bottom of one of those honest articles, some magical algorithm planted an advertisement for me. A very well known and respected woman in the marketing industry was promoting her online course:

“How to get anything you want. You’ve got what it takes to change your life”.

On a different day I would have ignored the ad, but that banner provoked me.

Someone who influences millions is saying that each of us has what it takes to get anything we want?

Selling the idea that we can have anything we want is surreal. Implying that each individual has what it takes to “make it” is naïve – even offensive if you dare to look outside the privilege bubble.

Context matters. Where you live, where you were born, the political and economic scenario around you, all of that is relevant. If you have young kids, or someone in your family who is ill…

No matter how much I believe in myself, reality is, I can’t have "anything" I want.

Don’t get me wrong – I do believe that we can achieve much more than we think we can, that we are stronger and more resilient than we can possibly imagine, and that positivity and determination is a wonderful framework from which to look at our lives. Choosing courage over safety and love over fear is an exercise I try to practice most days.

But that ad made me realise that there’s a subtle yet significant dissonance in a message that deeply impacts our culture. Successful people are saying that failure is optional, and achievement is a product. Just sign up and get a free sample straight to your inbox.

Hundreds of thousands of people are clicking. We’re desperate.

We all want to master the “five easy steps” that will take us to… whatever we think we need.

What’s your elevator pitch? How many subscribers do you have?

And that’s when words like ”identity” and “community” become commodities.

Sociologist Zygmunt Bauman said in a recent interview to El Pais:

“The question of identity has changed from being something you are born with to a task: you have to create your own community. But communities aren’t created, and you either have one or you don’t. What the social networks can create is a substitute. The difference between a community and a network is that you belong to a community, but a network belongs to you.”

I don’t ever want to believe the illusion that I can build a network that I own. Or that the quality of my work is connected with metrics that will become obsolete in a few years time. I want to be part of a community that is mine as much as I am theirs. I want to trust and be trusted, not follow and be followed.

So I suggest we reconsider the message in that ad:

“How to get anything you want. You’ve got what it takes to change your life”.

“How to leverage the talents and gifts you have. You are enough”.

Carolina x