Sorry but AOL's "Digital Prophet" Shingy is as boring and un-subversive as any ad exec
You've probably already read the brief profile of David Shing, aka "Shingy," in this week's New Yorker. If you haven't, and you're someplace where you won't be embarrassed by spontaneous outbursts of laughter, take a quick look. Apologies to Andy Borowitz, but it's the funniest thing the magazine has produced in years -- even if I'm not sure it means to be.
Shingy works for AOL, holding the mythological position of "Digital Prophet." He first bumrushed the popular consciousness back in February after appearing on MSNBC as AOL's representative. This led the Internet rabble to his website where he spat out a litany of empty buzz phrases like “mindshare equals market share,” and “become the connection generation.” A star was born.
Nine months later, which is apparently the gestation period of a Shingy news cycle, the New Yorker decided to tag along with Edward iPhoneHands as he addressed a group of Applebee's higher-ups ("I am able to find something to like in every brand once I hear their story,” he tells the New Yorker, presumably with a straight face). Shingy also takes a moment to show off a picture of a bear he had drawn (“Wanted to show you a little brain fart I had on the plane.”)
So now we're talking about Shingy again. And inevitably, the narrative around him has become, "I can't believe this fake techno-guru convinced AOL to pay him six figures to '[watch] the future take shape across the vast online landscape.' ” How desperate must AOL be to connect with the next generation of consumers?
But there's something dissatisfying about this narrative. Because if you take away his exploding black hair, his giant hipster grandma glasses, and his futuristic rhetoric, Shingy is about as boring and unsubversive as any other marketing exec.
Just look at that quote he gave prior to the Applebee's meeting: "I am able to find something to like in every brand once I hear their story.” That sounds like it came out of the mouth of Don Draper, not some superconnected hippie savior. And observe Shingy's easy interactions with "a Ward Cleaver-ish advertising executive" and "Erika Nardini, the chief marketing officer of AOL Advertising." The New Yorker writer wants to surprise readers by noting the contrasts between Shingy and these buttoned-up types -- but the contrast is only skin deep. Make no mistake, these are Shingy's people.
Of course, the fact that Shingy does dress like some counterculture hero makes him all the more appealing for AOL to have onboard. His strange appearance and job title help get him on television and in magazines far more often than if he was just another boring marketing dude in a suit. Shingy is also careful to pepper his totally bland ad-speak with strange Buddhist-sounding koans. That way, whether we're laughing at him or in awe of him, at least somebody's talking about him.
But don't be fooled into thinking Shingy is some kind of Andy Warhol-inspired genius who sees hidden beauty in branding. Nor should he be dismissed as some spaced-out geek who's tricked Tim Armstrong (who, for all his faults, is a very smart guy) into paying him over a hundred thousand dollars a year to look like a freak and give hazy talks about "millennials" and "connectivity."
No, Shingy is just an ad exec with a personal brand. And in 2014, as tech and celebrity continue to cement their unholy union, we should probably start getting used to that.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]