Cloudy with Chance of Symbols

Recently I had the chance to attend the Churchill Club dinner at which Larry Ellison was interviewed by Ed Zander.

Always an interesting interview, Larry was in good form that night and talked on topics ranging from his commitment to win next year’s America’s Cup (if the Swiss don’t cheat) to the future of Oracle to cloud computing.

Larry’s main point on cloud computing seemed to be summed up in the statement, “What the hell do you mean by this? It’s still a computer and software!”

Far be it from me to argue with such an august personality of the tech arena, but Mr. Ellison’s rant and the continued questions about it through the evening did get me started thinking about the etymology of the term, “cloud computing.”

Does anyone now remember where this term started? It started with clip art and PowerPoint; presentations in which the internet was represented by a clip art cloud. Now, how’s THAT for the power of symbology?

A cheesy little piece of clip art (OK, many cheesy little pieces of clip art) took hold of the cultural psyche and so embedded itself there that now you see the term used on the front of widely published journals and used by (technoweeny) pundits everywhere.

I am the only one who finds this amazing? This is where the power of symbols can be seen in action. And this is where, as marketers, we need to be aware of the cultural iconology and utilize these social icons. This is where stories get their power and why stories have such power, because they are a shortcut to the swirling pool of meaning just there below our consciousness.

This is how a little piece of clip art became such an icon that luminaries like Larry Ellison end up on stage in front of a thousand people pontificating about it.

As marketers, as writers, as communicators, as SEOs, as storytellers, we have this awesome power at our disposal. The great marketers know this, know how to employ it, how not to break it’s rules, how to use it with integrity, and how to integrate multi-faceted communications so that they all add to the effect.

Famous advertisers and marketers like David Ogilvy knew this implicitly. And it’s when modern day marketers remember this that things take off. How a tweet circles the world. How a little piece of clip art becomes part of our culture and language. How our messages take on lives of their own.


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