Maybe it’s just semantics, but for me “Armstrong” = “Ice Age”.

Tim Armstrong: one icy dude  - photo courtesy of Alley Insider

What does being a “consumer” mean to you?

When you’re using AOL’s software or ISP (or both) or visiting AOL.com to check your email, does doing those things make you feel like a “consumer”?

How does it feel to be a “consumer”?

Does the word “consumer” sound cold and abstract? By using it I’ve reduced who you are to what you do while you use products and services made by a company that, like any other company, cares about just one thing: how much money they’ll make while your eyeballs are plastered to the screen.

By calling you a “consumer” I replaced you with statistics on what you do and when you do it so I can plot and plan on how keep you coming back for more.

Let’s look at it another way. Let’s say that instead of calling this blog’s visitors “readers” I called them its “consumers”. In return for the precious gift of my reader’s time I insult them by erasing their humanity: “So, what are my visitors consuming? Let’s go check the stats”.

My reason for asking you, my readers, how you feel about being called a faceless herd of “consumers” is this: in case you hadn’t heard, today AOL got its new CEO, Tim Armstrong.

He welcomed himself into AOL’s quirky fold with a rah-rah, “We’re going to make AOL the Magic Kingdom!” pep rally via memo before getting ready to either sink or swim in his new role.

What stood out for me (not much else did) was how often he referred to you – the person who checks your AOL email, who chats on AIM, who visits TMZ and PopEater, and who, most importantly, keeps AOL in business by clicking on ads shown within the content – as “consumers”.

Here’s one example from Armstrong’s note:

Our work together starts today and we’re going to bring back the magic of AOL to our consumers and our partners.

…Billions of consumers and millions of businesses are making the digital migration…

…We’ll make the decisions and the investments that are required to deliver exceptional value to our consumers. Consumers vote with their clicks and the time they spend on our sites, and we need to make world-class products and services that get votes based on a superior consumer experience…

Armstrong repeats the word consumer seven times before he’s done.

He calls my readers “people” just twice, both times near the beginning, then quickly abandons it in favor of the vaguer and to my mind, the more insulting word.

He even manages to work the word “consumer” into one thought three different times. That would be like me giving a speech in which I said:

“If more of AOL’s consumers would visit my blog then maybe AOL’s consumers would see that my blog exists to solely to serve AOL’s consumers….”

Sounds silly, doesn’t it?

Maybe I will stun the AOLers who will read this by not lauding Armstrong for his “strong” focus on “consumers”, but why should I? It’s nothing more than Web 2.0 “paradigm meets the grid” bullshit.

Let’s rewrite his memo. Instead of the above, what if I re-wrote it so that Armstrong said:

…Billions of people and millions of businesses are making the digital migration. We have a tremendous opportunity to help improve the experiences of everyone crossing into the online realm.

We’ll make the decisions and the investments that are required to deliver exceptional value to our customers – the people who visit our online offerings and who use our products every day. Visitors of our online properties vote with their clicks and the time they spend on our sites, so we need to make world-class products and services that get votes based on a superior guest experience. AOL’s partners and advertisers expect no less than our guests [to be pleased? Tim wanders off at this point, then bounces back with:] and we need to hold ourselves to delivering the best solutions the industry has ever seen.

My edits are subtle but it should be noted: Now he’s talking to you. About people. He sounds much more convincing when he sounds like he actually gives a damn – doesn’t he?

When you compare how I think Armstrong should have worded his memo with how he actually worded it, it becomes clear why AOL has met the Ice Age, and why Armstrong’s name is written all over it.