Is the most significant brand design of this century hiding in plain sight?
There was a fantastic article in The Guardian’s Technology section yesterday (get me!) about what’s potentially going on with Google Maps. As the article points out, one might get the sense from Google that their constant breakthroughs in digital mapping are almost a gift to us their consumers – something fun and free. But as cartography curator Lucy Fellowes has said “Every map is someone’s way of getting you to look at the world his or her way.”
Here are some of the article’s nuggets: “There is a sense, in fact, in which mapping is the essence of what Google does…. a search engine, in some sense, is an attempt to map the world of information – and when you can combine that conceptual world with the geographical one, the commercial opportunities suddenly explode. And then there’s the most important point – the really exciting or troubling one, depending on your perspective. In a world of GPS – enabled smartphones, you’re not just consulting Google or Apple data stores when you consult a map: you’re adding to them.”
So we are complicit in building the brands and the data. And if information is power, having the world’s best maps puts these brands in a pretty powerful position. The end result is likely to be a one-to-one scale global map, which in years to come can possibly even be live, tracking our movements within it. It’s amazing to think how recently the idea of finding a pub on a phone that walked you down the street was pure sci-fi. Now it’s a daily occurrence for many of us. Not always the pub – obviously. Just mostly.
“The map is mapping us” notes the article. “Exactly what information the companies collect, and what they do with it, remains much debated. But it’s easy to grasp the basic commercial calculation. The more exactly your phone knows where you are, the more accurately you can be served with advertisements based on the places you’ll be passing. (Ads on Google are already geo-targeted.)…. Meanwhile Google and Apple insist, plausibly enough, that they’re not interested in anyone’s individual data: the commercial value lies in the patterns they can detect in the aggregate.”
Now all of this might be old news to media strategists. But where maps were once the way they were because their makers were the military expanding empires, the maps of our century will be driven by marketing concerns. This achieved ironically via ‘military grade spy planes’ if you believe New York Senator Charles Schumer. Perhaps that’s why Google and Co. sugar-coat their endeavours via a soundtrack of humdrum acoustic folk music?
Either way, marketing being the new leader in cartography is going to have a profound effect on how we see the world, and on how we are seen within it. Pretty metaphysical, considering this is a map of earth we are talking about. In fact, it’s hard to think of any brand or brand sponsored design which is having a more significant influence on the way we are going to live our lives.