Monday, December 24, 2007

Advertising disabilities with darkness

Among other things, Mae West is famous for a shrewd observation: "It is better to be looked over than over-looked". She was commenting on the matter of women being the subject of unsolicited attention, but the context today might equally be marketing communications and a similar challenge to capture unsolicited attention.

It is the starting point of most agencies working on behalf of clients today to bring heightened attention to a specific cause. This is a time of marketing abundance and a barrage of communications daily that dulls the senses. It makes the first challenge the need to break through the barrier of indifference and be registered. If the advertiser is fortunate, the message will also be read and processed in its entirety rather than being partially processed and abandoned.

This is not to suggest that shock tactics are always a good idea and should be justified. It is merely to provide the perspective that it can be needed in order to gain traction in the first instance.

The campaign in question certainly does that. Which is better however: a less controversial approach that doesn't get noticed as much, or one that is polarizing and inspires greater involvement? The number of responses to the original article is a testament to the latter. There is a rubric in advertising that states that effective communications that engages, moves and persuades will never appeal to the everyone: an authentic point of view will by definition be polarizing. Dove's Campaign for Real Beauty of which a principle OFDer was one author is an example: there are plenty of women who reject this vision and accessibility of beauty, but a core and zealous group that does not.

Like good art, good advertising will provoke a response, which inevitably will be favorable among some and unfavorable among others.

The above duly noted, the campaign does cross the line into poor taste in our view at OFD. Positioning disabilities as 'taking a person hostage' is true in a conceptual sense - but not compelling when expressed in a literal sense. Positioning any person as a victim is not a constructive way to frame the issue. Moreover, the dark overtones of this strategy are likely to alienate more that win people over. Top marks for creativity, but miss-applied in our book. A good idea to drop this approach and pursue another.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Finally, a term for what we've known all along

For what we are about to receive....

Advertising is an industry of manipulation. It is a vital if not perennially controversial agent of the modern economy that help keeps the wheels of consumption and therefore commerce turning (according to a recent NPR news segment as much as 60% of economic activity is attributable to consumerism, which advertising undoubtedly feeds).

The copywriting craft is a formal function within the industry which recognized that words are a powerful force in shaping people's perceptions, not only of products but the consumption experience.

Recent research confirms this influence and gives it a formal term: confirmation bias. According to a recent NYT article:.

“If you say something is juicy, people almost unconsciously turn up their ‘juicy sensors’ when they taste the food. Once these taste sensors are activated, people become preprogrammed to think a dish tastes good.'’

The notion that confirmation bias can actually have a physical effect on taste bud receptors has to make those in the persuasion profession feel somewhat better about what they do. After all, using the right words is not merely a suggestion. In reading a seductive description which affects the body's physiology it actually DOES contribute to greater enjoyment, not just the idea of more pleasure.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Social Networking: The Now, The Future

grapes as trajectory

To mix metaphors, social networking (SN) continues is meteoric ascent. Not only does the pace of new community creation continue seemingly unabated, but in its wake so too is the number of pixels – paper or digital – being devoting to the subject. Accordingly, OFD provides a brief view of SN today and the future.

We don't think social networking can't be thought of as a fad, because it is here to stay and it will remain a permanent feature of most people's lives.

We do think it is experiencing heightened and unsustainable levels of engagenebt. It's the novelty factor. For those of who remember the 90s and the internet space before the dot com crash, this feels eerily similar: a giddy abandon to build without the kind of discipline that is needed for utility to pay out.

One inevitable consequence of over-development is fragmentation: with the explosion of social networking groups, let alone individual blogs, there has to be a day (ok era) of reckoning in which hundreds of thousands of SN sites and interest-based groups simply atrophy and wither away like grapes dying on the vine.

If anyone has any statistics on the number of sites that a heavy/medium on-line user regular reads and the subset number s/he contributes to, we be interested. We also be interested to hear of any insight on the curve; no doubt for a typical individual it starts out expanding quickly and then shrinks to a manageable smaller collection.

We believe the repertoire has got to be fairly small. There are, after all, a limited number of hours in everyone's day, and while the digital world has it's appeal there is still competition for limited discretionary time from the real world, which provides something that the on-line world can never provide – the multi-sensory experience. It requires going no further for an example than a neighborhood bar, where one can see people, stimulate taste buds with drink, smelling the weapons of the attraction game (perfume and after-shave) hear music, and have unintentional (and if you're luckier) intentional physical contact. The desire for these kinds of experiences competes with the time people can devote to SN activities, no matter how ubiquitous wireless devices and coverage becomes.

Makes for a perfect longitudinal study of on-line behavior regarding social networks. Any one interested?