We as people have become so time stressed, so attention fractured, that we have to choose wisely where to invest our effort and our eyeballs. Oh! There’s a Tweet I should probably read…
Just kidding. But not really. [It was Instagram…who reads Twitter anymore now that Trump has stunk up the joint?]
It’s not like it used to be when people were attention starved and looking for forms of entertainment, no matter whether it came from a brand or a TV station or a movie studio. Now we are the opposite. Instead of being attention starved, we are attention gorged. We are assaulted with content.
I’d blame it all on the Internet, but I love the Internet. I’d blame it on all the screens, but I love all my screens.
Ultimately, I don’t think there is anyone or anything to blame. Because there is only so much stuff that we can give our attention to. There are only so many things we can give a shit about. And as Cousin Eddie so poetically stated in A Christmas Vacation, “The shitter’s full.”
We, as consumers, don’t care about brands because there are so many other things…meaningful, interesting things…for us to care about. So the new reality is that brands are no longer competing against other brands, they are competing against absolute, unblinking consumer apathy.
Despite that, marketers fuel indifference by embracing the latest technology or the most incredible algorithm to serve horrid creative executions to more eyeballs for less money. That’s the disconnect: people want relevance, while brands want attention. And brands will scream louder and louder until they drown out the competition and get the attention (but not the consideration) of a customer.
The world is changing. It’s time for marketers to change with it.
That requires creating indifference-fighting work. It involves abandoning interruptive advertising and embracing co-optive creation; content that mirrors what consumers already care about. The brands that will succeed in this environment are the ones that recognize their consumers’ interests and align their messaging to further those interests. Virtually all indifference-fighting brands share these three characteristics:
1. They do things for people. They don’t just say things.
There are many examples of this. It really all got started with Tom’s Shoes’ One for One philosophy; giving a pair to a person in need for every pair sold. But there are new examples of this popping up every day. It’s impossible to go to New York and not notice the CitiBikes. Or how about Anheuser-Busch halting beer production and canning water to send to places where floods put safe drinking water in short supply? Brands are beginning to realize that usefulness equals relevance equals consideration.
2. They are not afraid to be bold.
We always say that boldness is a dial, depending on category conventions. Bold in hospital advertising is fundamentally different than bold in deodorant advertising. As an example, I’ll use Always’ #likeagirl campaign. Man, was that work bold for the category. Truth be told, Nike did this campaign years ago, and it was successful, but not game-changing because of the expectations of athletics advertising. But for a feminine products company, it was earth shattering, and empowering, and brand building. The lesson: know your category norms, then shatter them.
3. They don’t have a positioning, they take a position.
For years, we’ve known that great brands stick a stake in the ground. They are guided by purpose and built through experience. They create friends and enemies, and they do not waiver. As an example, I’ll use REI. Their “take a position” philosophy culminated with the #optoutside campaign launched in 2015. You’re probably familiar with it, but #optoutside involved closing all stores and distribution centers on Black Friday. CLOSING ON BLACK FRIDAY! That is true commitment to their values and to the shared values of their consumers (as Bill Bernbach said, “It’s not a principle until it costs you money.”) Can you imagine the conversation when the CMO walked into the CFO’s office and told him he had a great new campaign that was going to lose them millions? In most companies it would have been killed immediately. But because it was so in line with the values of the company at large, it got approved.
Those are a few examples of how modern, indifference-fighting brands are going to be built. Not by interruption – not with more noise, but with more understanding and cooperation. The modern brand won’t force consumers to adapt to it; tomorrow’s brand will adapt itself to fit consumers. Because there is too much bad content out there, too many horrible pre-roll things, and terrible programmatic banners and intrusive mobile ads. It is all so easy to skip and ignore and block. To truly engage and be noticed, modern brands will need to stop trying to outscream the competition and start trying to outcare them. In short, they will stop screaming at them and start screaming with them.
Joe Parrish is partner and chief creative officer at The Variable. He tweets @joeparrish