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At the CNMA – the evolution of Nerd

Last night I attended the 7th annual Canadian New Media Awards.  It was a nice little night and more than a few friends brought home what has to be one of the nicest trophies going on the awards scene.

Hardware aside, the event was marketed as “Nerds Night Out”, a quirky little hook that pokes fun at those of us who make our living in the creative technology industry that some still cling to calling ‘new media’.  But were they really poking fun?

To lead off the show, we watched a video put together by the good folks at BiteTV, featuring their hosts Jason Agnew and Matt Chin.  In the video, Agnew and Chin prepare themselves for ‘Nerds Night Out’ with Agnew donning mismatched apparel complete with suspenders and a pocket protector for his notepad.  Chin, on the other hand suits up as if he were in the Matrix with Keanu, readying his cellphone, PDA and Bluetooth headset to complete the look.  The bit culminates as Chin explains to Agnew that ‘nerd’ is no longer a term that applies to a specific, fashion-challenged segment of the population, but is more accurately a reference to an individual who is “at one with technology” – which takes on many different shapes, sizes and, of course, styles.

So why am I telling you this?  I’m glad you asked.  I’m mentioning all this because it makes an excellent point about every niche in today’s world.  While a stereotype is a fine thing to use when you’re making a cheap joke at a party, more and more stereotypes are becoming a cancer for marketers.  To truly speak to individuals, particularly within a niche market, we have to remember that it’s not just nerds – virtually any audience or individual that we speak to today (and this will only increase in the future) is demanding to be recognized for the complexity and diversity of their interests and self-expressions.

To look around the room last night was to see a group of confident, well-dressed professionals – not a team of suspender-clad misfits toting scientific calculators.  Clearly, the cookie-cutter ‘Revenge of the Nerds’ character that many grew up identifying with, is gone.  Moving forward, it’s up to marketers to remember that speaking to today’s consumer as though they were a part of a group so easily defined may make them feel like they’re targeting a niche audience, but the reality is, targets so easily defined are becoming a fiction – a fact which was so obviously on display last night.