¡Bong! Late last year, in a dimly lit meeting room...
Outside, the chant of the mob grew louder, and ever more terrifying.
“Death to the Jews! Death to the Christians!”
I gulped hard. My assistant มาลัย (which means "Garland of Flowers" in Thai) gripped the table.
Through the open window I could smell burning paper, and possibly even burning human flesh.
Who knew Tower Hamlets could get so lively?
I had made the short trip from my loft space in Shoreditch to meet a potential client. He had demanded that we meet on “Neutral Territory” so Tower Hamlets Town Hall seemed an appropriate venue. He now glowered across the table from behind thick swathes of clothing which concealed his identity. Beneath I could just discern a bullet proof vest, a belt of ammunition and an enormous ceremonial sword.
There was something about this gentleman’s appearance and demeanour that disturbed me. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
“Don’t. Take. This. Assignment,” มาลัย Snapchatted me, anxiously, from the other side of the table.
I hesitated - and then looked my potential client straight in the kuffiyeh.
“Well, I’m... I'm sorry. I can’t help you.”
The mysterious visitor looked disappointed.
“But you can have my advice for free, Mr Whoever-you-are."
Mr Whoever-you-are snorted derisively.
“You will die like a dog soon, anyway, like all the other entrepreneurs in Shoreditch. So you may as well impart what you know."
I took a deep breath.
“Well. You have a real image problem. I mean, this here 'Caliphate'. What the fuck is that? And your trading name, ISIS: that's really going to cause you problems, once your business needs to scale. Syria and Iraq and, what then? You keep adding names as you go along? Think global.”
“What you really lack is a coherent #engagement strategy. What you need to keep in mind is three letters. CVC. Compelling Viral Content. You’ll have the media eating out of your hand. Nobody knows who you are - so you can take advantage of that. Make friends with some of the Western hipsters on the coolest new websites, like Perez Hilton, or VICE. And finally, don’t forget irony. If you want to break through to a Western audience, make some playful ironic references to their favourite movies and TV shows. Just never forget: think #engagement.”
With that, มาลัย and I rose to leave.
That had been a lucky escape, มาลัย and I both knew, as we crossed the bullet hole-pocked Tower Hamlets Council Car Park, where almost every parking spot had been marked as reserved with the Bengali word for disabled, "LUTFUR".
But it was only when I returned to my loft space that evening and started Googling the outfit that he claimed to represent, on my exclusive prototype Apple Beats “Dr Dre Cop Killer Big Booty Edition” iPad, that I realised how right she was.
Looking through the ISIS material on the web shocked and appalled me.
The full horror
None of the videos adhered to a common visual style. Some even used what looked like the Arabic version of Comic Sans font! In 2014! C’mon. The whole thing was a UX consultant’s Bad Hair Day.
And their political programme? Even worse. Not a word about encouraging the next wave of entrepreneurs. I could find nothing about teaching kids to code. Nothing about making Big Data sets public - and nothing about making copyright fit for the digital age i.e. by abolishing it. Truly this was a medieval kind of outfit - whoever they really were.
Yet looking back now, months later, I can see that at least some of the advice that the Bongster, and other social media gurus, have been giving you all for the last decade has been heeded. ISIS is "decentralised, fluidly organised and can co-ordinate itself across vast territories, thanks to Western technology,” says Milo Yiannopoulos. They’d gone and hooked up with the hipsters, just as I suggested: with VICE magazine shooting a video where the ISIS guys drove around in Raybans, looking really glamorous and cool. And with a bit of Reservoir Dogs meets Breaking Bad iconography, they'd created A Compelling Piece of Viral Content.
Millions of Twitter users had re-tweeted it, millions more had reminded us to #DoNotRetweetTheCompellingViralContent, reminding us all it was there. Newspapers and TV transmitted stills. Even publications which didn’t actually re-transmit the Compelling Viral Content felt obliged to describe it in pornographic detail, like The Times.
As I watched it unfold this week, I knew it was a vindication of everything I've advised. We turned our media into clickbait - these medieval thugs simply fill the demand.
I also let out a huge sigh of relief. The beheading season in the Middle East reaches its frenzy in the summer, which coincides with a busy social calendar - especially in a Glasto year.
“What a close shave, มาลัย, eh?" I reflected this week, as I unbuttoned my shirt.
"Now, Please. Warm my ice bucket to just the right temperature. I am ready to take The Challenge.” ®
Steve Bong (official title: Lord Bong of #businessmodel) is the founder of Bong Ventures, an early stage investor and incubator focussing on innovative new technology start-ups based in Shoreditch, London. When he's not helping rear the next generation of business models, Steve enjoys parties, foreign travel, extreme cuisine, Open Data and draws his inspiration from Ayn Rand and His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama. He advised (then hired) No.10 policy guru Rohan Silva on mindfulness and innovation, Lily Cole on innovation in giving, Mark Zuckerberg on the Perfect IPO, the Republic of Kazakhstan on emergent social media strategies, LOCOG on brand enforcement, and imagineered the Olympic Opening Ceremony with Danny Boyle, Shoreditch's #guardian coffee coffee shop with Jemima Kiss, and was the social media consultant for Edward Snowden and Lady Thatcher’s Funeral. A recent attempt to arm the Syrian rebels with iOS7 sadly failed, however. At the personal invitation of Kim Jong Un, he is a strategic consultant on the Nextification of North Korea. Steve wants to pivot the BBC into the 22nd Century, blue-skying its hugely successful Digital Media Initiative, and advises the UK Government on icon design and the new National Curriculum. He favours Small Government but Large Catapults, the Soft Power of Tiny Coding Fingers, and wants more taxpayers engaging in Ambient Crowdsourcing.
Congratulate Steve on losing more money via @BongVentures