Terry Heaton, who said all media companies are actually in the advertising business (rakish and bold, IMHO) now thinks that the times are a-changin’:

The suggestion that an institutionalized hegemony such as mass marketing could possibly be collapsing is, I’m sure, laughable to many, and while I’ll admit to a certain proclivity towards the provocative, I don’t wish to be considered a loon. There’s no question that advertising is in disruption, but the extent to which that disruption impacts commerce isn’t really understood. Mass marketing is based on certain (often inflated) assumptions that can no longer be trusted, so our faith in it can’t be more than paper thin. This impacts media vastly more than anything that’s disrupting media content, for it strikes at the very core of our business. Along with our emerging networked world comes the very real threat (to some, blessing to others) that the marketing of the old is becoming impotent and no longer able to “move the rocks” that it once did.

A blessing indeed! While his essay seems to spell gloom and doom for the numerous spammers and marketing “gurus” who pollute my online content, it’s one of the most joyous pronouncements I’ve heard about web communications.

The Web disrupts hierarchical cause and effect, and no profession needs that like marketing. Its essential purpose is to cause something to happen, whether that’s through clever public relations management or spending enough money on advertising. The first tool in a marketer’s toolbox is the ability to generate a desired effect. The Web disrupts this many ways. One, any claim made can be immediately checked. Two, the people receiving the message are connected with each other and can explore any claim that way. Three, people can launch convincing counterclaims, just as competitors can. Four, people can talk back to the claim and let others see it at the same time. Five, people can hide from or otherwise ignore the claim. I’m sure there are others, but the point is that traditional branding and other marketing concepts don’t work online. The Web is a direct marketing marvel, but the profession hasn’t figured out how to do that in an age when its targets — the elusive consumers — aren’t cooperating.

Now, doesn’t that just make you want to gleefully wiggle your fingers like a diabolical wrench in their works?

Heaton goes on to point out the exclusiveness of marketing’s goals (deliberate) and social networking (or “word of mouth” marketing). To say the latter isn’t concerned with a business’s interest in promoting their service or product is an understatement – there is absolutely no profit-motive or incentive when consumers share their experiences. The practice is mutually beneficial between users, and their goals mutually exclusive with business. This seems like something that should have been obvious from the  beginning but is still enlightening.

This is why social and new media is much more adaptable to the goals of non-profit, political, and otherwise socially responsible organizations. Normal people aren’t interested in selling each other Burger King, but they do care about a clean environment and other issues.