TED Conversations

Paul Kemp-Robertson

Co-Founder & Editorial Director / Contagious, Contagious Communications


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Are people starting to trust brands and corporations more than governments?

Technology has reconfigured the mechanics of the traditional business landscape, changing what we buy and how we pay for it. Peer-to-peer systems like AirBnB and TaskRabbit encourage people to swap, share and rent amongst themselves rather than buy from stores. Concurrent with the growth in collaborative consumption is the emergence of a new understanding of 'money'. The limits of traditional monetary units are being tested against a backdrop of financial uncertainty, currency volatility and technological progress. People are coming to realise that their data, everyday activities and social chatter are alternative forms of value and payment. Slowly, we're seeing new micro- and crypto-economies being forged that aren't necessarily based on a traditional understanding of cash.

Surveys such as the Edelman Trust barometer suggest that there is a global weakening of trust in institutions and governments, If people are starting to trust businesses and brands more than their civic leaders, should we be questioning whether governments need to be in sole charge of money any more? In 1860 there were 1600 varieties of currency in America. Are brands hoping that history will start repeating itself? In a digital age, are loyalty programs becoming new forms of currency? Will people start to demand commodities (products and services) from brands in exchange for access to their personal data and consumption patterns? Are mobile phone credits more useful to modern consumers than loose change from a shopkeeper?


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    Jul 30 2013: Differentiate for me please the difference between branded currency and coupons. I mean aside from the fact that one is electronic. It does not seem like a new idea to me. Just a new application of an old idea to get consumers to return to the same brand. I gotta say, I used to like it when dishes and glassware came in boxes of tide, but even then, that currency was not enough to make me purchase a more expensive detergent.

    Money and currency are theoretical and based on a belief system. If everyone believes money has value, everyone will try and get more of it. Money is still theoretical even if we change the belief system that underlies the value and make it electronic currency.

    Frankly, I do not trust any corporation or brand more than the government. I trust neither equally.

    As a consumer, I make purchase decisions based on the availability of currency, whatever kind, coupons, sales, cash, debit card or barter. I do not pay extra for a brand. In essence, brand loyalty is a form of brainwashing, especially detergent...

    When you work hard for the little you have you get picky about where you spend it.
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      Jul 30 2013: Hi. Coupons tend to be tied to purchases or small discounts. The ubiquity of mobile phones, the rise of wearable technology like the Nike Fuelband or Jawbone Up and people’s increasing willingness to share personal data with brands is creating all kinds of possibilities for alternative currencies & commodities. I have explained some of these underneath my TED U talk here http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_kemp_robertson_bitcoin_sweat_tide_meet_the_future_of_branded_currency.html
      Branded currencies could mean all kinds of things. If you look at the movement towards hyper-local shadow currencies such as the Bristol Pound (http://bristolpound.org/) or the Ithaca Hours network (http://www.ithacahours.org/) it’s not too much of a stretch to think that an organisation like TED could issue its own currency, pegged to the dollar. TED florins (!) could be used to purchase products or services only from those companies endorsed by the TED ‘brand’ and proven to be ethical, sustainable, charitable, etc. Amazon Coins have been released for purchases inside the Kindle Fire app environment. Some economists are pointing out that this ‘currency’ could easily become a shadow to dollars in time; for example if one Amazon Coin was officially worth one dollar, Amazon could offer products for sale whereby the Coins price is lower than the dollar price. This would encourage people to stay loyal to the Amazon ecosystem: Amazon would happily take a hit via such discounting because in the long run it would make more sales, retain customers and have access to all kinds of valuable shopper data.
      In my TED U talk, I refer to another kind of branded currency that Vodafone launched in Egypt, whereby people choose to receive ‘Fakka’ (mobile phone credits) instead of loose change in shops: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqOsYNilElY In Mexico, Nike allowed people to bid their ‘sweat’ in exchange for exclusive goods that could not be purchased with real money: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kt3npMtx49s
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        Aug 1 2013: Believe it or not, I've been following Bitcoin for a while so your tedtalk was not the first I heard of it. It still is a closed currency system where vendors award points to be used to attain products they profit from. Most of us know about 'front loading' and 'back loading' profit. This just seems to do the same thing across vendors.

        Cashing in points is cashing in points. Whether you are S&H Green Stamps, airline miles, or tide.

        It still smells the same in a different dress. And I do get it, as an advertising/marketing person, you job is to make us want the dress.

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