E-mail from the underground

Shove media from the clickstream cabal

Published April 6, 1997 7:00PM (EDT)

Ensconced in his lair deep within San Francisco's China Basin Landing, the Hacker Formerly Known as Microworm -- having survived the ping-of-death attack launched against him after his exposé of the Wired IPO -- is hard at work on his study of artificial counterintelligence among the digital elite. Suddenly, his computer pipes up with the opening bars of the Surfaris' "Wipe-Out." That can mean only one thing: He has new e-mail.

From: Digital Golem 

To: The Hacker Formerly Known as Microworm
Subject: Clickstream Cabal On The Move! (Fwd)

(Microworm -- just got this off a scrambled satellite transmission from Luxembourg. Looks like a report to the Internet First Society from our mutual friend in Taipei ... thought you might be interested.)

Begin Forwarded Message:


I was investigating a data haven in Bhutan this morning when my mailbot beeped me with a Code 9 special alert -- the Clickstream Cabal was convening an emergency chat-room summit meeting! I pulled out of the Himalayas so fast you could hear the packets snapping. The Cabal -- CEOs of seven of the biggest advertising agencies in the world -- rarely panics like that. Something must have spooked it.

The meeting took place in an AOL bunker served by dedicated T-3 lines permitting full audio-visual interactivity. Triple-encrypted, data-mined and bristling with guardbots: not my idea of fun. But I got lucky. The Cabal's Saatchi & Saatchi rep was on the beach in Monte Carlo running an unencrypted voice-to-text converter on the wireless feed to his laptop. I nabbed most of the first 15 minutes before Cabal security picked up my trace.

Now I'm on the run again. Please get the word out. I know you've been opposed to "push media" from the beginning. Traditional broadcast media has no place on the Web. But you probably didn't realize that push media is actually a conspiracy, a Web-ified version of the Teapot Dome scandal. Don't believe me? Listen in.

[Begin Transmission]

Ogilvy & Mather: Comrades, the outlook is grim. "Push" is imploding. If we don't act immediately, we could lose the whole Web. Two years of careful planning by the best minds in Wall Street, Madison Avenue and Silicon Valley -- all for nothing. We need a new metaphor. Now.

Young & Rubicam: Imploding? Nonsense. Push media is everywhere. There isn't a zine on the Web that hasn't run a story on push, just as we calculated. But then, you've always been critical of push. Why, if I recall correctly, you claimed Wired magazine would never run our advertorial. They put the damn thing on the cover!

McCann-Erickson: I'm sorry, Rubicam, but I'm afraid Ogilvy's on the money. Push media is generating powerful negatives. Our latest focus group poll indicates that 73 percent of the target demographic doesn't like to be pushed. An even bigger 82 percent respond negatively to being shoved. And hardly anyone, outside of a statistically insignificant fraction of S&M enthusiasts, enjoys being staked to the ground and pummeled.

Wieden & Kennedy: Even worse, the Net is pushing back. Sure, we're getting lots of coverage. But it's almost all hostile. The press is unanimous. Almost every journalist is saying the same thing: Push media is a cover for establishment media companies and advertising agencies looking to control content on the Net. When, of course, it's not about control. It's about freedom -- the freedom to control.

Young & Rubicam: God, I hate journalists. Who the hell do they think is paying their salaries? Without advertising there'd be no publishing.

Wieden & Kennedy: Well, no, actually. The conventional wisdom is that on the Web anyone can be a publisher, regardless of advertising revenue. The Web is empowering. It's the same kind of liberational philosophy we promote in some of our Nike commercials -- the ones where we emphasize that everyone can be an athlete, whether they're wheelchair bound or comatose.

Young & Rubicam: So what? NO ONE CAN MAKE ANY MONEY! This ain't amateur night in CyberPalooka-ville! We're dealing with the realities of life in a capitalist society. How do publishers and writers intend to pay their mortgages, their child care, their trips to Vegas, without advertising revenue? Advertising makes the American Dream possible!

Ogilvy & Mather: This is all off topic. We're not here to discuss the pros and cons of push. I think we're all agreed that the question at hand here is not goals, but strategy. The end has always been obvious -- if we can't prevent eyeball drain from television and print media, then how can we subvert it? What are the means? Push is dead. We need a new formulation. Suggestions?

Saatchi & Saatchi: There must be something we can use. What are the buzzwords normally associated with the Web? Surfing, community, communication ...

DDB Needham: I've got it! Tidal Media! Ride the Biggest Wave!

McCann-Erickson: Again, too overpowering. Ninety-two percent of our focus group respondents expressed an unwillingness to be engulfed by a tidal wave. The whole problem with push is that it's too in-your-face. We need something less off-putting. You know, like those radio stations that only play nice music. They're big money makers. What do you think of this? "Soft Media: Keeping The Web Safe And Sound, No Sharp Edges, No Surprises."

Wieden & Kennedy: Not bad, not bad at all. But let's not forget that "soft" comes with its own package of unsavory connotations. WebMuzak isn't right for the cyber-niche. Actually, I think we're taking a risk by trying to pinhole the new new media. It might be better to play it safe, to strive at evoking a comfortable feeling, without even using a real word. Something more like a sensation -- a catch phrase designed to convey that effortless, cushy feeling that comes from knowing that you, the Net-connected consumer, enjoy instant access to all media, when you want it, how you want it.

Like, maybe, "Swoosh Media."

[Transmission interrupted]

From: The Hacker Formerly Known As Microworm

To: Digital Golem
Subject: Re: Clickstream Cabal On The Move! (fwd)

You've got to be kidding me. Wieden & Kennedy must have hijacked the satellite feed and planted this. It's an obvious forgery. Those bastards are too smart for their own good. What chutzpah! They know people are up in arms over this barefaced Web power-grab and they're co-opting that resentment to promote their own brand. Talk about your push media!

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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