20 years ago, almost every kids TV show was designed for one purpose; to sell toys.
Each episode, Transformers shifted their focus onto whichever character's toys weren't selling that week, driving that individual toy's sales. The same was true for He Man, Action Force (GI JOE in the US), My Little Pony, Inhumanoids, Galaxy Rangers, Bravestarr, Thundercats, the Real Ghostbusters, Robotix, M.A.S.K... I could go on.
One show however seemed to be strikingly different. That show was Captain Planet and the Planeteers, and it had a very straightforward concept.
Looking after our environment.
The gist of the series was as follows; each week a villain would commit some sort of environmental atrocity, and the Planeteers - a multi ethnic group who were given magic, elemental rings from the spirit of the Earth, would do their best to educate people who'd allow the disaster to go on. Each villain in the series represented a different aspect of mankind's dark side, or an ecological issue.
After a little bit of action, the Planeteers would realise that they couldn't win against the villain and so by working together, they would call on a superhero called Captain Planet.
Captain Planet thrived on fresh air and sunlight, and was weakened by pollution. He'd usually sort the bad guy out pretty quickly, leaving the Planeteers to inform the public what they can do to make the world a cleaner, better and place. Everyone always learnt their lesson. Except for the bad guys.
I can clearly recall an episode involving a poacher causing a shark attack scare in order to get a licence to hunt and kill sharks. The villain in question was secretly selling the sharks for meat. In the meantime, the sharks' natural food (poisonous jelly fish) suddenly increased in numbers and began stinging beach goers.
Other episodes dealt with renewable energy, preservation of ecosystems, deforestation, drug abuse, AIDs, mining, littering, drilling, and nuclear war.
On 8th December, 1992, the original run of Captain Planet ended, and since then, I'm almost certain that there hasn't been a cartoon as intelligent, truthful or as well-meaning as Captain Planet.
If you were a child in the early 90's then you're now of the generation which can really make a change to this world. We had the message drilled into us weekly in an entertaining manner, and I've NEVER dropped litter, done drugs, or advocated nuclear war, so they must have done something right.
So what can we take from Captain Planet, and what's this got to do with link building?
I think that there are a few lessons that we can take from Captain Planet and apply to link building and digital marketing in general, especially in the post-penguin environment.
Consider this. I'm still now thinking about the environment and my impact upon it. I'm not thinking about buying the latest Transformers character. Sure, at the time I wanted all the toys, but these toy shows proved to only be effective in the short term, just like the outdated SEO and Link Building tactics such as article spinning, social bookmarking etc, that some agencies had become reliant on.
Working in a team can be highly beneficial, but sometimes it takes an individual to lead and inspire others to make a change.
Captain Planet usually had to step in and help the Planeteers once their adversary became too strong, but he always inspired them to keep trying, and to apply their knowledge to the next difficult situation.
Now more than ever, it is important to develop your own online entity. After all, link building is all about relationships, and hiding behind a faceless team or persona doesn't develop relationships effectively. Think blogging, think guest posting and think social media. Engage directly with the communities you're trying to build a relationship with.
There's more to maintaining a healthy environment than just clearing up other people's mess, real change happens through education and changing other's mindsets to prevent these messes in the first place.
The general public normally embraced or enabled the villain's activities to an extent before being educated by the Planeteers. Until the public changed their mindset, there wasn't a hope that the same thing wouldn't happen to them again.
Clients will continue being fooled into buying SEO and Link Building 'packages' that used to offer little to no value, and now put their sites at risk of penalisation. Until reputable digital agencies educate them, and offer a degree of transparency in their activities, this will continue to happen, and we'll be forever doing re inclusion requests for those who've been ripped off after each successive update.
Sometimes, the best messages aren't always the most popular; and people always want an easy option, so you must resort to creative and innovative ways of spreading your message
Captain Planet was never the most popular cartoon. Despite having an unpopular spinoff series commissioned, the show died in 1992. But because its message was so true, and presented to us as children in a way we could understand, I think it's had a positive impact on our generation.
We need to learn to use new and creative ways to get our messages across in an environment where link building has become extremely difficult.
This is a twofold message, because in the first instance, we must build links in a way that isn't overtly promotional and adds value to the linking domain, as well as the linked domain.
Secondly, we need to get agencies to move away from poor link building tactics, and towards safe, clever, bespoke strategies. We can only do this by talking (blogging) about it.