[MARCH 29, 2090] Until Advertising Age asked me to write this piece as part of its 160th anniversary package, I confess that I didn't know that much about my grandfather, Simon Dumenco. Yes, I knew that he was the "Media Guy" columnist for Ad Age back in the early part of the century, but he died before I was even born, and my father was rather estranged from him. Dad was always angry that Gramps clung so tenaciously to the media business, until the bitter end, even as it collapsed around him. Grandpa Simon died alone and was buried in a pauper's grave. True story. Heartbreaking, really, and I don't like to think about it.
Anyway, apparently "Media Guy" Grandpa Simon wrote a lot of so-called listicles. So when Ad Age asked me to come up with a list of some of the most influential brands of 2090 -- and to look back at where they were 80 years ago (if they were even around back then) -- I jumped at the chance. Here goes:
It's a little-known fact that micromessaging service Bieber was not actually started by Justin Bieber. And it's hard to believe that the middle-age pop singer (now 96), still going strong with his Las Vegas revue, was just 15 years old when he became an international superstar. He was the world's biggest-selling recording artist in 2010, and apparently was a staple on something called Twitter -- the predecessor to Bieber. By 2011, 78% of all Twitter messages (aka "tweets," or what we know today as "biebs") were about Justin Bieber. By 2012, that number had climbed to 94% -- at which point Twitter, whose endemic advertisers had dwindled to basically just Tampax and Hot Topic, threw in the towel. Justin Bieber acquired Twitter in 2012 for $1 and the assumption of debt, then renamed it, officially turning it into what it had already become -- a terse Justin Bieber fan forum for Generation Z, Baby Doomers and beyond.
Believe it or not, Google Earth started out as a mere feature -- it was some sort of virtual globe/mapping program -- back when Google was just an internet company. This was before the days of Human Distributed Computing (HDC). At the start of the century, Google had massive "server farms" -- giant complexes filled with thousands of bulky computers that served up all of Google's information and advertising. By 2015, to accommodate its server farms, Google had purchased most of the landmass of Oregon, Washington State and Idaho, as well as Brazil, Indonesia and Greece. But by the 2030s, with the advent of HDC -- which harnessed the collective power of Google users' nervous systems to act as a human-based "cloud" for the internet, allowing marketers' messages to be served subconsciously with zero lag time -- Google suddenly no longer had use for its server farms, at which point it branched out into commercial and residential development, while continuing to acquire land. In the wake of the Great ReDepression of 2042, Google was able to buy more property on the cheap, including most Southern states, the Southwest, New England and Northern California. Starting with its acquisition of China in 2049, Google quickly came to control of most of the rest of the globe's real estate -- which is why today, no matter where you live, you likely pay your rent to Google Earth, the world's largest landlord.
Back in 2010, American Apparel was a relatively small clothing manufacturer/merchant, but it got a lot of attention thanks to its sexually suggestive advertising campaigns. In 2014, American Apparel opened its first "Shop With Benefits" boutique in Nevada, and with the repeal of prostitution laws in most American states through the 2020s, the company was well-positioned to meet consumers' growing expectation that, well, sexually-suggestive clothing didn't have to stop at the suggestion. More traditional clothing chains like the Gap, which failed to match American Apparel's, uh, package deals, struggled to compete. (Only Abercrombie & Fitch, which was notorious even in 2010 for using scantily clad sales clerks to draw customers into stores, chose to meet American Apparel on its own terms, changing its name in 2015 to Abercrombie & F***.) Today, American Apparel is by far the biggest player in the Bordello-Boutique & STD Walk-in Clinic sector.
Not many people realize this, but there's a historical precedent for FoxXe. Back in 2010, General Electric (known today as P&GE following its 2064 merger with Procter & Gamble), was the world's largest industrial company, a sprawling conglomerate that did plenty of business with the U.S. Department of Defense. It also owned something called NBC, a television broadcaster, which it (wisely) got rid of by 2010. One of GE's competitors was defense contractor Xe, which had changed its name from Blackwater in 2009. Around the same time, News Corp., the political party, had a broadcast operation that ran a round-the-clock TV infomercial called "Fox News." Seeing synergy between the military expertise of Xe and the broadcast power of Fox News -- which, of course, had actually started a couple of wars (including Civil War II, 2013-2015) -- News Corp. chief Rupert Murdoch engineered their merger in 2036, creating FoxXe just before his death at age 105.
The Huffington Gawker
A lot of people seem to think that Huffington Gawker was a real person -- like Johnny Walker or Betty Crocker. Actually, Huffington Gawker was born thanks to the efforts of two people: a Greek self-promoter named Arianna Huffington (the Betty Crocker of aggregation) and a half-Hungarian, half-British entrepreneur named Nick Denton (the Johnny Walker of blogging). Today, the Huffington Gawker (HuffGa), the merged company those two visionaries left behind, is the leader in the comment-aggregator media sector, which affords tens of millions of eager commenters the opportunity to comment on the aggregated commentary of other commenters.
The nation's leading purveyor of adorable food actually started out as two separate companies: a standalone fast-food company called McDonald's, and Disney, an entertainment conglomerate known for running theme parks populated by cute characters. In the early 2020s, McDonald's decided it needed a "brand reset" due to shareholder consensus that its own characters -- including a clown known as Ronald and a morbidly obese milkshake thief known as Grimace -- were too terrifying to children. In 2024, McDonald's and Disney merged and the combined entity has thrived ever since (despite early missteps like the Bambi Burger of 2025) under the long-running tagline "When you're hungry for cute."
Back in 2010, Soulbook was Facebook, a rudimentary social-networking service that was very popular despite its limitations. Early in that year, it grew to 400 million active users (a big number at the time), and many users began to feel overwhelmed by the pressures of maintaining hundreds, if not thousands, of friendships. In 2022, Facebook introduced its advertising-supported "Friendship Genius" feature, which used technology it acquired in 2021 when it bought Apple, a then-notable maker of electronic devices. (Genius initially started as iTunes Genius, a sort of music-matching service.) My grandfather, Simon Dumenco, was actually among the most vocal critics of the feature, which he called "the friendship equivalent of arranged marriages, with McDonald's and GM doing the arranging." (This was before McDonald's became McDisney, and when General Motors -- a legacy manufacturer of wheeled conveyances -- was still in business.) But it turned out that consumers liked having smaller, more manageable friend lists, and appreciated the simplicity of delegating friend selection to corporations.
To reflect the totality of its control over its users' lives, Facebook changed its name to Soulbook in 2027, with founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing that, "We view our role to constantly be innovating and updating our system to reflect what the current social norms are. We decided that the social norm now is to cheerfully submit to marketers, fully inviting them into your life and ceding control over your entire mind, including your thoughts and feelings -- and we just went for it."
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Simon Dumenco is the "Media Guy" media columnist for Advertising Age. You can follow him on Twitter @simondumenco.