Last week I wrote about the notion that the modern human had developed advertising blindness. The homo mercatus is a species so over-advertised to that he has evolved to a state of being able to pass over marketing with little or no effort.
What options are left brands when the intended audiences of their messaging no longer are even capable of tuning into them; when sight and sound alone are no longer enough? Should they shout louder? Get bigger?
The variables in a formula for engagement are attention, interest and opportunity.
Continuing to lean on evolution as the model… The human default position is: pay scant attention to a lot of things because the human interest is in survival.
While you are scavenging the meager remains of a kill left behind by a much larger beast, be on the look-out that it doesn’t return for a second run at the carcass you are picking at. Doing that for nearly 2 million years has hard-wired us for a certain set of proclivities. As we got more organized what humans needed to pay attention to specifically changed, but that we needed to keep scanning the horizon didn’t. While our attention and interest in survival has continued being important, to be set constantly for a stress response for the sake of physical survival hasn’t been necessary in some time. It is, however, still our default setting. In the last few decades a media environment geared for capitalizing on it has met the default setting of needing to maintain the kind of constant vigilance we evolved for. This has, in a way, been a boon for content: news, infotainment, and all the blips and beeps and tweets that were mentioned earlier. A mile wide and an inch deep is what we were good at long before we were good at paying attention. But what captures our attention best still hasn’t: anything that triggers a stress response.
So, advertisers should scare us into paying attention? This works some in marketing. Tapping the “r-complex,” or the reptilian brain, can get us to look. It’s the part of the brain responsible for the three F’s: flight, flight, or f**k. It’s why we buy SUVs but live in the ‘burbs. It’s why anger gets us to vote but feeling good about life doesn’t. But that all wears us down. Physically, those kinds of responses are good for quick short bursts followed by periods of rest. And marketers don’t want you to rest. They want to you to buy, and keep buying.
What can be effective is for a brand to work its way into our flow experience; becoming part of the indispensible background of everydayness. This takes time, and it requires more than a brand telling us what it is and why to like it. It requires capitalizing on more human senses than just site and sound. And it requires getting an audience to think about it in terms beyond just sight and sound.
What has advertising been for most of its history? An attempt at persuading you that my stuff is better than the other guy’s stuff… and that paying more for my stuff was worth it. This kind of brand-orienting persuasion could be accomplished through the right image and the right words. But no longer.
We have become blind to the nouns being used to market nouns. Stuff just talking about Stuff in order to get you to buy stuff is not enough any more.
A brand is no longer the thing it tells people it is, it is what people do with it, and then tell each other about it. It’s no longer enough to marketing nouns; it’s necessary to start marketing verbs.
One of the best ways to do this is to introduce kinetic experiences; place-based, three-dimensional activities that brings the sense of touch to the mix. Touch creates bonding in a way that completes sound and site. And digital – manifest as the internet of things — can be used to activate it. Things like Pepsi’s Bioreactive Concert at SXSW this year, where attendees wore bands that could pick up on certain movements or sounds. Interactive paper from Novalia, which has innovated a technology that renders printed materials – books, posters, OOH – interactive; you can touch and make things happen, like hear speech, or music, or send a message, or connect with an artist via social network. The whole spate of life-hacking devices are forums for marketing kinetically, even if the connection to a marketing event seems tenuous. What better way to insinuate a brand into our flow experience than becoming part of our flow experience? Adding a “doing” to the seeing and/or the hearing, can make a connection to a brand deeper than it almost has any right to be.
Think of kids and iPads. I can’t tell you how many parents I’ve seen out to dinner, both on their touchscreen smartphones with a toddler gazing glassy-eyed at a tablet, pressing away at the screen. Or think about it this way… any of you who have ever loved someone. You didn’t really LOVE them until you touched them… a hand held, a cheek kissed, a reassuring arm on the shoulder… a more intimate physical connection.
This is where brands can go to be noticed by homo mercatus: using digital and the physical together.
Jim Meskauskas is a co-founder and Chief Strategic Officer of Media Darwin, a consultancy specializing in strategic planning of commercial communicative action. He’s a medialogist who has spent the last 20 years living, breathing and thinking about how to use media to move people to action. Outside of that, his likes are horror movies, Southeast Asian cuisine, his wife and his cat — not necessarily in that order. His dislikes are mean people, people who text while walking in or out of the subway entrances, pestilence, war, famine and death.