Drone Murmurations and Marketing Unplugged

Drones are the world's favourite new toys. Whether you live in Poland, Panama, Peru, Portugal or Papua New Guinea, chances are you would have seen one by now. If you haven't, don't worry, it's probably only a question of time before drone murmurations become the next big thing for 'nature' photographers. It's January 24th, 2018, and the global consumer market's favourite toy factory, aka DJI, has just released its brand new UAV called Mavic Air. Be not confused, however, this article is not about new functionalities or eye-catching gimmicks. It's about something else instead.
Foto: DJI Mavic Pro in the air
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DJI Mavic Pro in the air

 

Old Identities and The Brand New Era of Exhibitionism

Imagine yourself 15 years ago (if possible), which is more or less the time when people still read books, as opposed to tablets, Kindles and other e-book readers, not to mention smartphones. It was also the time when there was no Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, let alone WhatsApp or SnapChat and, believe it or not, people generally preferred to communicate face to face, over the phone or by writing emails. Ironically enough, you certainly recall the early social allergies to the sprawling email culture.

It was the time when, in some obscure (or romantic) cases, even traditional letters were still much welcome, as opposed to 'weird' or 'quaint', at best. Rather hard to imagine, isn't it? By today's standards, (hand)writing a letter would not only be the ultimate example of counterproductivity, but also ample demonstration of the culprit's lack of sensitivity to carbon footprint and Mother Nature.

I sometimes wonder if having been born, brought up and educated in a country like Poland, where social, economic, political (and just about any other form of) transformation of the past 25 years, coincided with the global technological progress made things easier or more difficult to digest. After all, one was a little bit more used to the concept of change and progress, as very much part of everyday reality. In early 1990s, Poland needed to catch up with the rest of the pack at near-indigestible speeds, after decades of forceful, social and geopolitical isolation from the so-called 'free world'.

Looking ahead, with the many past perspectives still fresh in the living memory, few of us would have imagined that the world of 2020 will have already got used to sophisticated cities built on deserts, mass popularity of electric vehicles, not to mention the rise of autonomous cars pushing out their elder fossil-fuel kin from the roads. By that time, 5G and 'outer space Internet' in the remotest corners of the planet, with high-quality content streaming (possibly 3D) available to thousands of smartphones at a time will likely have become another 'can take it for granted' category. Even today, before going somewhere in person, you can already encjoy the 21st century equivalent of book readers' 'vicarious pleasures', i.e. a quick stroll via Google Street View. Need a more ambitious yardstick, still? By 2020, tourist selfies from outer space will surely no longer be that far away. 

Net Murmurations of Contemporary Homo Sapiens 

To some, modern technology, while marvellous and awe-inspiring in its own right, is also largely responsible for the 'sapiens' part becoming an increasingly questionable notion. One of the biggest paradoxes of contemporary person-to-person communication is that, despite the huge technological leaps that have almost completely eradicated national borders as obstacles to unrestrained dialogue, at some levels, communication (at levels of authenticity, profoundness and selflessness that our parents defined as such) has actually become sooooo much more difficult, for sooooo many. Social media, in their multiple incarnations, continue to exert a truly formative impact on the way people express themselves, their needs, values, even social identities. All of it keeps changing at a wild pace, over a relatively short period of time, leaving little space for true self-reflection and pursuit of any deeper meanings, long burried under the many feeds and walls. Chances are that if you're 30+ today, your parents will be hard pressed trying to understand what it is you never stop doing, with your smartphone in your hand, all the time. One of the almost inevitable consequences of the above is that mankind has become much more exhibitionistic than ever before, bar the sexual revolutions of the past, perhaps, and a chapter or two in the history of France. 

15 years is, of course, nothing when set against the whole of the human progress as we know it, and yet, it's enough to vividly remember the time when people were still in the analogue mindset, rather distrustful to the word 'digital' iteslf, let alone doing everyday shopping over the Internet and relying on sophisticated algorithms to help them make important life decisions, such as the choice of a school or even a nursury for their children. In other words, much has changed, and be not mistaken, a lot of it for the better. Technological progress, including the social media, has become like alcohol (ab)use and any other addictions, even the seemingly harmless ones, like collecting stamps. You simply need a little bit of wise upbringing or outstanding self-preservation instincts to defend yourself against (communication/self-expression) technologies' intrinsic traps. When you think about it a little more, you may come to the conclusion that, in those fundamental areas of person-to-person interactions, much more has changed than ever before in mankind's both extremely violent and incredibly fascinating history. Enough philosophical doodle for today.

An Apple a day... 

Let's talk about one more thing before the day closes, preferably one relevant to the original topic of the conversation, which is....what exactly? ;) DJI's great new toys, while imaginative and truly ingenious in so many ways, are essentially (over)simplified incarnations of what awaits consumers with the near-future upgrades to AI-reminiscent algorithms, whether in commerce, entertainment, or, indeed, just about any other sphere of what were once believed to be 'completely independent decisions' [the word 'autonomous' would be a little too ironic in this context, I guess]. These days, so many of our seemingly independent decisions are now intelligently facilitated by various technologies - the more unnoticable, the better.

Watching the stage entrance of the new kid on the block in the DJI family (Mavic Air), I am once again reminded of the legendary 2007 iPhone-launch presentation by Steve Jobs. The presentation style that Apple's famous founder brought to the stage back then has had such a profound impact on the world's biggest product and service brands that it would actually be hard to overestimate the scope of influence, in its many mutations and incarnations being taken for granted today. Watching Michael Perry's introduction of the new Mavic Air one feels overpowered with the same uneasy feeling (albeit on a much more subconscious level) some of us may have experienced watching Tim Cook trying to make some of Steve Jobs's idiosyncracies his own during the first few on-stage appearances. It took a while before the 'feels strange' impression wore off. In short, this is what happens when personal charisma and marketing wizardry become an inextricable part of a company brand.

The New Face of Technology Colporteurs

Today, to reach a global audience, even with a product as sophisticated and thoroughly enjoyable to use (no doubt) as Mavic Air, no matter how big and well-known you are, it always takes a complex spiderweb of marketing tools and sales-pitch playgrounds. Even though some of it may defy the basic tenets of logic, you should probably never forget that, no matter what you sell, your customer has never been more demanding. Though, now that I think about it, 'petty', 'meticulous' and 'research-/peer-review driven' would probably be more accurate descriptions. And so, it's no surprise that the ultimate goal for global sales gurus is to, first and foremost, set the word of mouth in motion - make consumers become the real product sellers, the more subconsciously they go about it, the better. In other words, make it go viral!

The name is Vlogger, Technology Vlogger

As soon as Michael Perry, DJI North America Director, entered the company's New York stage, a coveted group of technology vloggers were all given green light to prove their value to DJI, and the many thousands, even millions of hard-earned subscribers, with their insatiable hunger for instant entertainment and insights started scrolling in search of, preferably, CGI-quality reviews, light humour [or sarcastic, depending on your tastes, of course], good storytelling and mesmerising video editing, all in one.

Within 6 hours of the Mavic Air launch, blessed with a green light from DJI, officially permitting them to tell the world about the new toys (and their 'privileged' status), dozens of vloggers worldwide started sharing (aka promoting) their polished, personality-powered Mavic Air reviews on YouTube, all at just about the same (product-launch) time, which is when the real competition starts in their respective fields. If you have ever watched any of David Attenborough's nature documentaries, you will easily understand the game they are playing is one where ego, number of views and interactions play by far the most central role.

To give a real-life examle, fresh from the human vs. technology jungle, only 6 hours after DJI's official product-launch video was released on the company's official YouTube profile, the number of views under their polished "DJI - Mavic Air - Introducing the Mavic Air" video stood at about 39 000 views (now 413 000). At the same time, Casey Neistad's Mavic Air review garnered as many as 282 000 views (over 1,3 million now). Other vloggers were not giving up, of course, with iJustine (47 000), We Talk UAV (33 000), Jon Olsson (27 000 views), iPhonedo (9,9 thousand), Tom's Tech Time (4,7 thousand) and FunForLouis (3,2 thousand) rushing to share their own perspective, to mention only a few. Needless to say, over the last 24 hours, those numbers have skyrocketed. Feel free to see the current trends for the 'mavic air' phrase on YouTube. Again, it's only been a day since the product launch, mind you.

The sky is the limit

Well, for drones, at least, not really, not any more. The Internet (of People and Things) is already flooded with real-life examples of both military and consumer drone applications that baffle imagination. Speaculations about possible near-future implementations already go much further than anyone (outside the SF circles, at least) would have imagined, with any degree of realism, or sanity, driving their future profecies. A quick search of drone related queries on the Internet reveals a mind-boggling plethora of research, testing, manufacturing and applications. Of all the many fascinating films, talks, articles, research papers and documentaries I have come across, I will leave you with just one. Watch it, if you can.


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