High Touch, No Feeling

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by: Jonathan Salem Baskin

So here we are, tumbling together into a recession, a Presidential election cycle, violent storms, and a host of other events that are, at best, distracting and, at worst, troubling…and some of the businesses that touch consumers most regularly (and intimately, next to doctors and shampoo makers) are blissfully detached.

Submitted for your disapproval…giant, full-page ads from AT&T and Citi (actually, the Citi ad covered two pages in The New Yorker). 

I know that current events are rendered yesterday’s news every 24 hours. Marketers need to move products in good economies as well as bad. But the context of consumer experience is reasonably constant, isn’t it? And isnt it relevant? 

In the 1980s, everybody and their cousin thought they were going to get rich. We wore broad-shouldered blazers. Women had that goofy poof-hair like Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. Mr. Mister and the Hooters were popular. It was all very stupid, but at at the time it was oh so smart.

Branding catered to this context…making everything from automobiles to insurance polices relevant to the zeitgeist of the day. Entertainment and commercial content from those years seem so dated because, well, they were connected to a place and time…and inexorably connected to the culture.

So how come brands today can afford to be oblivious to what’s going on?

The AT&T ad is downright scary. It’s two hands painted to look like elephants. Another one in the series has a hand making the face of a moose. The genius behind this nonsense has since moved on to wreck havoc at Coke. What does the ad tell us? Absolutely nothing, other than that AT&T has no idea what’s going on in the world. Or that it doesn’t care.

The Citi ad is equally nonsensical. If you take the time to read the associated copy, you realize that Citi wants to claim involvement in some weird, linked series of events around the world. I have no idea what numbnut is responsible for this idiocy, but I bet the hushed conference room presentation of the creative was absolutely brilliant. Mortgage foreclosures? Putative fees on accounts? 

Oh, that has nothing to do with the brand.

Bear in mind, I have no problem with innocuous content, per se. The fact that in this economy, at this time in history, and for its consumers, that these businesses chose to run this branding nonsense isn’t exceptionally bad. Perhaps it won’t hurt the brands. But it certainly doesn’t help them.

I take that back. We live in serious times, and there’s no such thing as neutral communications: you either add something to the conversation, or you take something away.

These ads take away credibility, relevance, and utility from the conversation that the businesses presume to have with their consumers. Conversely, it doesn’t seem like it would be such a dim bulb idea to come up with branding that addressed the topics that are on consumers’ minds these days. 

I’d wage that connectivity to India or an imaginary brat named Kate are not among them.

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2008/09/high-touch-no-f.html