The war for attention rages on, but have marketers forgotten what they’re fighting for?
In this age of digital distraction, our ability to gain attention has been dramatically compromised. But is ‘branded content’ our saviour? Or our own worst enemy.| June 20th, 2018
Over the course of the last several weeks, a few campaigns have caught my eye; from the perspective of a media consuming consumer, and as media observing marketer. And sometimes it’s hard to tell which of these two personas has taken the interest in them. But let’s assume, as my marketer hat is rarely (if ever) left at home, it’s because I probably spend more time than the average person, paying attention to branded content. Either way, they’ve gained my attention, in different ways. And now, I’m going to talk about two of them to you. From the brand’s perspective, job done, right? Well, only if the consumer in me is more likely to spend some money with them.
The first, was the widely talked about campaign from Lush: #SPYCOPS. And unlike many campaigns, the conversation wasn’t just taking place in the trades, with publically projected opinions coming from ‘the general public’ and mainstream press. The campaign, aimed to raise awareness of “ongoing undercover policing scandal where officers have infiltrated the lives, homes and beds of activists”. With a message that the police have ‘crossed the line’ and should obviously refrain from doing so. To most, the question arose as to why Lush would be getting involved with the topic (fervent opinions followed). To those in the marketing game, it’s just another example of a brand aiming to connect with consumers through a bigger ‘purpose’; as opposed to directly trying to flog them stuff. The popularity of this approach stemming from the popularity of findings such as ‘Brands with a strong purpose help accelerate brand equity’ (Millward Brown), or the plethora of similar statements across the industry at the moment.
The campaign (like many others at the moment), is driven by an industry Zeitgeist, as opposed to by basic marketing principles. Brand or social ‘purpose’ is just one of the phrases and buzzwords which have become part of the common marketer’s vernacular in recent years. Alongside the likes of ‘storytelling’ or ‘emotional campaigns’ it’s been proclaimed by one source or another to be the answer to successful communications. However, while they all have validity, each approach starts with the same basic assumption, that people are listening. The reality is that they probably aren’t (only 18% of digital advertising even gets looked at). The growth in digital media means consumers have more competing for their attention than ever before. A result of this ‘war for attention’ has found many brands getting a little lost in the maelstrom of the battlefield, forgetting why we’re creating advertising content in the first place… So we turn attention to action – in other words persuade people to buy something from us (either in the sort or long term)
In order to deliver any kind of deeper message, we need people to first stop and listen. And it’s actually our instinctual brain which decides what we allocate our attention to. Consider it the gatekeeper to both emotional or rational thought (it’s a common misconception that our instinctive brain and our emotional reactions are one and the same thing). While this has always been true it todays world of limited attention and infinite distraction it’s even more pertinent. Nicholas Carr noted in his book ‘The Shallows: What the internet is doing to our brains’, that “repeated exposure to online media demands a cognitive change from deeper intellectual processing, such as focused and critical thinking, to fast autopilot processes, such as skimming and scanning.” In other words, we are trading accuracy for speed, and prioritise impulsive decision-making over deliberate judgment. The digital and social platforms that have driven this change and with which we spend most of our time use design features such as the like button, pull-to-refresh or swiping mechanic to drive engagement. These features privilege our impulses over our intentions.
Instead of studying, understanding and designing for this, our industry reaction has been to invent word – ‘content.’ A magical solution to the attention problem. But let’s not kid ourselves. We’re not creating it because we should be storytellers, or publishers, or because it’s the brand’s purpose. The core goal of ‘marketing content’ today remains the same as any creative we’ve ever made…to ad-vert attention towards our brands. It’s advertising and it always was. And if you’re not thinking about the job for your creative and your content in this way, you’re possibly already failed.
With this in mind, I’ll leave you with the second campaign that drew my attention; the Oasis ‘sharing bottle’, mocking the ‘worthy advertising’ trend. Showing that while many are turning to ‘deeper’ communications; simple and distinctive creative can be just as (if not more) effective. It stays true to their longstanding #RefreshingStuff strategy, using humour to land a relevant, simple message: the product is refreshing. Visually its distinctive and familiar; intuitively identifiable as the brand by sticking to the bold simplicity of its consistent style. Possibly most importantly, it focuses on the product and it’s benefits to the consumer, rather than it’s ‘story’ or ‘purpose’. While they can help, they aren’t always THE answer and most definitely aren’t always a must.
Perhaps the irony here is that I have paid attention to a campaign that pokes fun at a topic, advertising, that I inherently pay disproportionate attention to. And that, given the majority of people are apathetic at best towards our profession, the entire campaign may be destined to a different, but no less pertinent, failure as Lush’s #SPYCOPS. Maybe I’ve fallen foul of my own intuitive biases.
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