Digital Marketing

Where Are the Jetpacks!? Cultural Experience Marketing in the Digital Age


Where Are the Jetpacks!? Cultural Experience Marketing in the Digital Age, by Eric Shutt

Our New Digital Frontier

A new way to think about digital and how it ties into everything around us.
A new way to think about digital and how it ties into everything around us.

The past year, if ever, has been a time to take a step back and look at new ways to think about digital, and how it fits into everything around us. Explosive growth continues to drive digital marketing, as digital ad spending continues to rise, and it’s worth taking a step back to evaluate how the promise of digital is holding up to elevate our actual real life experience.

Digital ad spending only recently surpassed TV ad spending for the first time — a trend that’s only likely to continue. So what does that mean? Is it too much? Do we want more? What’s the impact this has on our lives? Different people would answer that differently. But consider that for us in the US, digital is front-and-center in our daily lives more than perhaps anyone, anywhere else in the world.

US and global ad spending per capita bar graph

Ad spend in the US is way higher per person — on average — than anywhere else in the world. Global ad spending comes in at about $625B, and about 1/3 of that in the United States. What that means is that in the US we get hit with over 7x higher ad spending than the global average spend — $685 per person vs. $95 per person on average in other countries. That’s more than 7x higher than the global average.

To have an impact, digital needs to serve a truly valuable purpose in our real life experience — not as a mindless distraction or escape to the screen, and chase for clicks and views.

Are we there yet?

where are the jetpacks
jetpacks represent the promise of how technology will make our lives amazing.

Wait, wasn’t there something about jetpacks?

Jetpacks represent everything we’ve been promised about how technology will make our lives amazing. They’re something we’ve heard about for decades — just on the horizon of an incredible, technology-driven future. Today, marketing is expected to not only convey brand and product benefits, but to address cultural tensions and create incredible experiences for customers. 

Well — the future is here. So, where are the jetpacks? 

In many ways, we’ve been promised the same thing about digital. It’s here to make our lives incredible and create amazing experiences. Digital represents the story — and dream — of an open, free, and connected future. 

So, are we there yet? As technology and marketing continue to evolve, people are starting to question the role that digital plays in our lives — and the value it adds to real life experience.

The Science of Happiness

Recently, we’ve started to see a bit of digital backlash — or “Techlash”. 

Digital is supposed to make everything better, right? More open, free, connected and equal. That’s the promise that’s still being made today by big tech companies: that it makes our lives better — even as we’re seeing concerns about digital and the role it plays in our everyday life, from mental health, to constant distraction, to a factor in up to 25% of car crashes.

The “science of happiness” offers insight into how we can have an active role in creating our own experience. The good news is, to a certain extent, we have a lot of control over our own happiness, through our choices. Things like our relationships and friends, activity, exercise, kindness, empathy, purpose, gratitude and optimism — all play a big role in how happy we are. Our own choices have a big impact on our happiness.

The Future is Here, So …

So what do we want — especially from digital and technology?

A few years ago at the AdAge Digital conference, I saw the Chief Digital Officer of Domino’s give a talk. He said that internally, they think of Domino’s not just as a pizza company, but as “a technology company — that just so happens to deliver pizza”. It sounded crazy. Dominoes = Pizza. What are we trying to prove here?

But there’s an important insight there. It’s that in marketing, especially digital, we tend to think of people out there as “the target”, or “user” or “customer”. But what people really want to be thought of as, is people. And what people really want, is an amazing experience. 

It’s not about an app, or better content, or an awesome email sales funnel. What people really want, is an incredible experience in real life. To be able to order pizza from a hiking trail anywhere in the country. To say, I’d really love for this thing to happen right now, and be able to actually do it. Delivering on that can be pretty epic.

Cultural Experience Marketing

cultural experience marketing timeline of marketing approaches

At the intersection of this continued digital revolution is Cultural Experience Marketing. Only by breaking past established ways of thinking can agencies and brands continue to deliver true value, meaning and purpose to clients and customers.

It can definitely get more complicated. But, the overall gist of Cultural Experience Strategy is to find a social tension, link your strategy to creative, and execute with an insider style. Experience Marketing factors in everything that adds up to the full brand experience, internally and externally, for a brand or company.

Where Do We Go From Here?

If there’s just one takeaway, it’s that to win in digital, we need to win in real life. The brands who are winning in digital are the brands who are winning — with their actions and their message — in real life.

So what can we do? Here are 3 questions to ask about your work or brand:

  • What cultural tension do you resolve?
  • What experience do you create?
  • How does digital power your culture & experience?

Our job as marketers is to create culturally relevant experiences that use digital to make our lives better — not just pull people even further into the screen, to chase clicks and views. 

Maybe you think you’ve already got this all figured out
 and still want more. In that case, you can always try my favorite #lifehack for a fresh perspective:

With the ever continued explosion of digital marketing, we need to remember what really makes us happy — our friends, activities, our purpose in life — is our own, real life experience. 
We now have an amazing opportunity, and the technology to impact real life experience in new and profound ways.

Maybe we’ll never get jetpacks in real life, and hopefully the “digital jetpack” world won’t ever be beamed straight onto our eyeballs. But the next time you’re deep in the weeds building a new website, or creating the next break-through social media campaign — take a step back, and remember that what we’re really trying to do — is to make people’s real life experiences — better.


Eric Shutt is an Ethical Digital member, contributor, and founder of SummitX — a Digital Marketing & Leadership consultancy focused on the vision that to make an impact, digital needs to serve a truly valuable purpose in our real life experience.

By Eric Shutt

Eric Shutt is a Digital Strategy Director with experience that spans the world of scrappy startups, big agencies, and client work from small brands to Fortune 100 companies. An agency veteran of ISL, a J. Walter Thompson co., Eric has lead digital strategy and account teams for clients like Volkswagen, GE, Kroger, and Sam Adams.

When he's not thinking about your next big cultural experience marketing campaign, you can find Eric backcountry skiing and tandem bike touring the US.