Building Brands One Tweet at a Time

Josh Spear’s digital crystal ball.

In a recent episode of amc’s deliciously compelling 1960s-advertising-executives-gone-wild drama, Mad Men, two 20-something creative consultants at the Sterling Cooper agency are brought into a meeting to advise a coffee client on how to best reach the newly empowered younger generation. “We don’t want to be told how to act, we want to find things for ourselves, we want to feel,” one of the precocious young men tells the room full of grey flannel.

Forty-five years after that fictitious conversation takes place a similar discussion is underway at Google’s 2007 Zeitgeist forum in Europe. The 23-year-old marketing strategist, blogger and self-styled ‘arbiter of cool’ Josh Spear is standing on stage and asking how many audience members have Facebook accounts and know what Twitter is. The media moguls in attendance are listening because they know that access to the current younger generation, one that has grown up digital, is still on an invite only basis.

Cultural revolutionists can point to the upheavals of the ’60s as dramatic spurts in our evolution, certainly youth culture emerged from that decade with astounding new apparatus with which to open the doors of perception (which then got stuck on the shag carpeting that was the ’70s), but good weed and burning bras were nothing compared to the staggering shifts that digital advancements have wrought. In the Naughties we’ve gone from having a CD player, daily newspaper and home phone, to carrying around a magic five-inch long piece of plastic and circuits.

It’s no wonder then that companies are looking for plugged-in whippersnappers to help explain all this stuff to them, but as Universal Music Group ceo Doug Morris whined in Wired last year, “we didn’t know who to hire.”
Enter Spear, who started (as one is wont to do these days) with a blog. was a trend-spotting site birthed in a University of Colorado journalism class in 2004. Gadgets, fashion and music all received the Spear seal of approval, and a mention on his pages was a wom (that’s word-of-mouth to you fogies) marketers dream. The site blossomed rapidly, and realizing that experts in digital marketing and branding were in limited supply, Spear soon branched out to co-create a digital think-tank called Undercurrent, that advises brands such as Pepsi and Virgin Atlantic on how to better engage consumers who have grown up on the digital stuff.

Spear also went to Tokyo for an inspirational run around the neon streets—the hope is that he’ll return with new insights on how young audiences will be interacting with his clients’ brands a year, and ten years from now. Then he’s off to Tianjin, China for the Meeting of the New Champions at the World Economic Forum followed by stops in Geneva (to keynote the digital shindig at the World Federation of Advertising) and London before making it back to the Undercurrent offices in New York.

Besides enlightening jwt as to what a Tweet is, perhaps Spear’s most successful campaign to date has been convincing multimillion-dollar ceos to fly him around the world, listen to what he has to say, and pay him for the privilege. Apparently, as long as there are men in suits there’ll be younger men like Josh Spear explaining the new world to them. 

TEXT BY Adam Pollock