Saturday, May 15, 2010

So, what's a brand got to do to get attention these days?

As a rule, I appreciate Steffan Postaer's advertising views and his refreshingly raw honesty. I've been thinking about a post I read a while back from Talent Zoo. He ponders society's capability for being appalled. And, as he concludes, I'm afraid we've all become numb. How did this happen?

Postaer answers, "We have become inured by the proliferation of content. What mass media started the digital age is finishing. In order to stand out (be it advertisement, film, book, commentary, even acts of criminality), one now has to continuously up the ante."
Remember the first time a movie scene or an event stuck with you in a way that you could never forget? It demanded all of your attention. Your pupils widened. Your pulse raced. Your breathing became erratic. Intense shock mixed with shaky nausea. The more active your imagination, the more physical the reaction. Maybe it forced you to reevaluate your belief system or sleep with the lights on for a month. Your childlike optimism was compromised. You were able to put yourself in another's position and feel what they felt. It changed you. You were truly appalled. When was the last time you were affected at that core level? By anything. My guess is long ago and not to that extent.

One movie offers an extreme example of what happens when someone is incapable of being appalled. A Clockwork Orange introduced an idealized aversion-therapy solution. The question: Once someone is empathetically numb, can proper shock reactions be relearned? The answer: Not really. The part that was missing: Free will. He was not appalled by choice. In the end, the government was forced to cure Alex from his cure.

Kubrick is notorious for saying more through film element juxtaposition. Here's an insight I found at imdb.com. Apparently, he was testing the audience's ability for processing appalling content throughout the movie:
The film reflects this: many bad scenes in A Clockwork Orange are accompanied by jolly music; if we are to experience them as we should, we have to do it consciously, by realizing they are bad, and not because the director tells us so through the use of music and images. Steven Pemberton Pemberton@cwi.nl>

Each time we are exposed to something appalling, for better or worse, our capability for situation rationalization strengthens. We create boundaries. It takes more and more to engage our adverse moral-filter response system.

On a positive note, I'd call it survival mode. The mind is constantly analyzing external criteria and doing whatever it takes to enable us to carry on. If we didn't have this survival mechanism, we would probably all be housebound – paralyzed daily by our local news or even CSI promos.

So, if everyone is numb, how do you disrupt routines and generate brand attention? Ideally, a brand simply wants reactions from all of us content zombies.

In the connected age, everyone's thoughts are fair game. Appalling or simply intriguing, gauging what elicits a reaction is instantaneous. Society's content creation momentum infinitely builds. Making a blip in that spectrum is an ever-increasing challenge. But, it's being done. Just differently. One phenomenal commercial spot is not going to do it anymore. Brands have to coordinate smart, multifaceted, integrated-campaign assaults and be prepared to deliver.

We may be incapable of being appalled, but we are no longer a passive society. Interaction is the new action. And as Newton would predict, if a brand interacts in an interesting way, reactions will be inevitable.

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