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17-year savants

17 year cicadas

Every 17 years something astonishing happens.

Large, red-eyed cicadas emerge by the trillions and begin flying clumsily through the humid air. Depending on where you live, this could be your summer to tread carefully, cover your ears and act like you’re not really afraid of the burgeoning brood.

But that massive cicada infestation is not the astonishing part. What boggles the mind is their timing and the way cicadas coincide with world-changing events. 

Ancient civilizations understood this prophetic power. They referred to the broods as “locusts,” and their arrival was viewed as the portent of something cataclysmic: from floods and famine to wars and baby booms.

That thinking may seem archaic and even humorous to today’s sensible B2B marketers, but trust us, it’s no laughing matter. A simple review of recent marketing history will confirm that cicadas still know when major events are buzzing in our industry.

To prove the point, let’s review the most recent midwestern cicada arrivals with the big marketing events of the day.


1990: Cicadas predict the web and mobile

 Earthshaking event #1:

The first web browser became available and suddenly the internet could be accessed from a broad range of devices and operating systems.


Everything changed. Memos became emails, presentation boards became PDFs, print ads became clickable banners, storefronts became websites. In short, marketing became digital and we never looked back.

Earthshaking event #2:

Mobile devices became more commonplace and the demand never decreased.


Everything changed. In a few short years we had texting, emailing, and always staying connected—for both good and bad.


2007: Cicadas predict search and a new type of phone

 Earthshaking event #1:

Google launched universal search. Essentially, this consolidated our worlds into one simple search.


Everything changed. Universal search allowed many disparate types of information to come together in a single source. Now your search results could include websites, news, videos, maps, blogs and images. In short, if you wanted to learn more about practically anything, you could “Google it.”

Earthshaking event #2:

The iPhone 1 was released, putting compact computers into our hands.


Everything changed. The consumption of content shifted forever, and the momentum is still growing. In a few years, terms like “mobile first” would become mantras for marketers. Designers, writers, programmers and media professionals would all adjust their thinking to reach a more connected yet elusive target using smartphones.


2024: Cicadas predict everyday AI and splintered social

 Earthshaking event #1:

Artificial intelligence (AI) becomes the dominant topic across marketing and many other industries. Some see it as a powerful new tool, others view it as their replacement.


Everything will change. If marketing history provides any guidance regarding AI, it teaches us that the change is inevitable but not terrible. Like the web, mobile, search and the smartphone, AI will become a technology tool that forces our industry to adapt. It will not replace us all, but like the other major changes, it will transform how we communicate, how we create, and how we serve our customers.

Earthshaking event #2:

Social media faces regulation and transformation.


Everything will change. If you want to start an argument in a roomful of marketers, simply say “TikTok.” According to some pundits, TikTok short form video content will be the new social. According to some politicians, it should be shut down. However, the continued growth of Instagram and Facebook as professional networks is even more ground-shaking to B2B marketers. Yes, social media is in a firestorm right now. But it’s also one of the most powerful marketing channels in history and it’s here to stay at least another 17 years.


Now, back to our intrepid cicadas.

Their short visit is ending for this 17-year cycle. By midsummer there will be very few traces left that they were ever here, just some holes in the ground and old shells on the tree trunks.

However, you can rest assured that they will emerge again 2041 bringing their buzzing to our neighborhoods and more astonishing changes to the world of marketing.