Advertisers have run into three problems related to the proliferation of choice and media: Human sensory adaptation, the proliferation of poor choices, the advancement speed of new media.
Human sensory adaptation
All living organisms encounter thousands of stimuli from internal processes and the external environment. These stimuli tell us what is going on. Our five senses account for the collection of a portion of the stimuli we encounter on a daily basis. In order to keep us from becoming pre-occupied biological multitaskers our bodies learn to ignore certain types of stimuli or make the reaction to some stimuli automatic. Our senses adapt in order to help us consciously focus on the important things like being thirsty, hungry, and sleepy.
Lots of this adaption happens on the molecular and autonomic level, but we can quickly learn how to ignore stimuli that we collect with our conscious senses. Do you have bad breath? We all do, unless we have something minty in our mouths. Does your own breath smell bad to you? Probably not, you have adapted to the smell so it doesn’t drive you nuts. Do you live next to train tracks? I don’t, thank heavens, but all my friends that do never complain about the sound of trains because they “get used to it.” Have you ever lost your keys and found them in plain sight? I have, hundreds of times. Why is that? It’s because when you look at the same features in your home every day your eyes and brain will take mental short cuts in order to cut down the amount of visual stimuli you have to encounter.
Advertising, a part of marketing, is ubiquitous. It is on the internet, the television, signs and bus stops, DVDs, and in the mail. People begin to adapt to it in order to cut down on the auditory and visual stimuli they encounter on a day-to-day basis. Advertising will never be important enough that we place it in front of eating, drinking, and sleeping.
The proliferation of poor choices
Let’s use a hypothetical product to illustrate this point, let’s use the widget. When two or three producers made widgets, consumers had little choice as to what type of widget to get. This is the way it was at the start of the last century. As the last century progressed entry barriers in the domestic widget industry began to fall due to advances in widget manufacturing technology. International entry barriers fell in a similar fashion. International and domestic placement and trade barriers also fell due to advances in logistics and transportation technology. Finally, near the end of the last century informational barriers for domestic and international widget producers fell when the internet became widely available and affordable.
As a result, consumers of widgets now have hundreds of widget choices that they can get from scads new retailers or online from domestic and international widget producers. Many domestic widget producers have their widget produced internationally.
Unfortunately, as with all increases in scale, not all widgets are created equal. Some are poor quality and others are great quality. The fact of the matter is that great quality widgets speak for themselves. The producers of great quality widgets do not need to trick consumers of widgets into buying quality, consumers want quality stuff.Â However, the producers of sub-par quality widgets do need to use tricks. How do they trick widget consumers? They do it through mindless and/or meaningless marketing. Sub-par widgets cannot sell themselves, their producers use gimmicks, tricks, and deception to sell them.
The advancement speed of media
Do you know what web 2.0, Orkut, YouTube, Google Wave, or social media are? You probably got a couple of those, but the fact is that the advancement speed of media and therefore new means of advertising and marketing is incredibly fast.
Going back to widgets. Can you be a producer of great quality widgets and fall into the trap of producing mindless and/or meaningless marketing to promote your widgets? You sure can. And the heaps of new media coming out makes that even more of a possibility because advances in media are happening so fast that widget producers do not know how to use them right. Can this endanger the respectability of your widget? Yes.
Lots of well intentioned widget producers have contributed to the steaming pile of mindless and meaningless marketing out there and I’ll bet they all had the best intentions. If you need proof, watch some local television. Local commercials are exhibit A in the case of well intentioned widget producers contributing to the pile.
Exhibit B is pop up ads. Do you think Netflix wants to bug the crap out of you with their pop up ads? Of course not, but they do. The internat is relatively new and people and the rules of engagement between advertisers and consumers are still being defined.
Exhibit C viral videos. What does a Subservient Chicken have to do with buying food at Burger King? Nothing. Why the heck did Burger King spend thousands of dollars on a meaningless piece of viral marketing? They, or the agency they contracted, do not know how to tie viral marketing with product benefit and results. Blendtec on the other hand has done a great job of tying product benefit and results in with viral marketing.
Now that we know what the problem is, why it exists, and why it is bad — we will take a look at the solution, meaningful marketing, in part 3.