Chetan Asher
Guest Article

How did the dot-com bust make me hate whiskey?

From viral marketing frenzies to the era of hyper-personalisation, our guest author reflects on the transformative journey of digital evolution.

If I hate whiskies it's thanks to the post-dotcom-bust era. Yes, you read that right!

Having started my career with a dotcom that pivoted to a web solutions company (the term ‘digital agencies’ did not even exist then), I was gung-ho about evangelising and creating online destinations for brands. This quest led me to an opportunity, where an equally passionate brand manager of an alcohol brand wanted to create a digital channel for marketing ‘invite only’ tasting sessions for the brand.

But first I had to ‘try the brand and understand the process.’ As a teetotaler going through a single malt tasting session seemed like a fish out of water. In a show of wits, I addressed the spirit in my glass as “nothing other than Maltreated barley.” The joke did not land well but the single malt hit hard.

The dot-com bust shadow was looming over and eventually. the brand manager could not get a green light for our then-ambitious plans and left me with a bitter taste for whiskies forever. 

In early 2000’s everything about the internet almost sounded like a death knell; the screeching sound of dial-up internet did not raise hopes either. Compared to the instant, always-on access it was really like an old relic.

SEO and email marketing were dazzling heroes of that era, supported by websites with long-form content stuffed with keywords. 

Auction websites were the new shiny toys and consumers bidding for low or free products was the ‘innovation’ brands were doing, and it worked.  

While ‘Snake’ was hibernating on my Nokia phone, I was busy chasing deals on auction websites that I never wanted. Little did I know that in a few years for me and many of you, our biggest cardio will be online shopping.  

Time to go viral

In some ways I am happy that the industry has forgotten the term “viral marketing” - an industry buzzword that has caused sleepless nights (so true to its name). ‘The Ice Bucket Challenge’ set off a flurry of challenges and a race for virality.

Every brand wanted to be the next ‘Ice Bucket Challenge’ 

Let’s join the cats

As YouTube and digital videos started gaining momentum post 2012, digital videos went mainstream and while cat videos were still popular, brands joined the bandwagon with both short and long-format storytelling videos. Videos also in a way truly democratised content creation on the internet, by giving a platform to consumers to turn into creators. 

It evolved the audience too from being a viewer to the creator.

It’s creeping me out

“There’s a virus in my MD’s PC, can you guys also help remove it” was a frantic call I received from a new client years ago. The virus turned out to be his browsing history leaving a crumbly trail from the good old cookies.  Retargeting ads from his recent travel searches were creeping him out.

Fast forward to 2023 and the user is delighted when the communication is hyper-personalised for them. There is a 360-degree shift - from “How does it know I need new pants?” to “Wow, the feed is showing a variety of pants I like.”

In two decades, digital has moved to the centre of the table. We have come a long way and have a longer way to forge ahead. The journey reflects a broader shift in how we understand and interact with consumers. While we do that let's stay curious, let's adapt, and hone our craft. Because the human story may not change; only the way it is narrated and experienced may! 

(Our guest author is Chetan Asher, Founder and CEO of Tonic Worldwide)

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