No, What Does Your Brand Do?

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The marketing media was buzzing last week with news that CBS will promote its fall program lineup via a teeny-weeny video player inserted in an issue of Entertainment Weekly magazine. I know the ad industry is in dire need of some good news, but doesn’t anybody else think this is utterly stupid?

The technology comes from a company called Americhip, Inc., which claims some philosophical association with marketing guru Martin Lindstrom. Lindstrom is a smart, innovative thinker, and he has turned his interest in neuroscience into a palliative for frightened marketers who see consumers readily ignoring their expensive brands. 

By using fMRI imaging, he claims that there’s a biological basis for understanding purchase preferences, and therefore makes marketing to all five senses, as Americhip claims it can do, the strategy for prompting beeps, zaps, or whatever else he suggests we measure. 

Of course, it’s mostly marvelous nonsense. 

Sure, people attach meaning to what they experience and learn, but there’s no biological basis to make any distinctions that marketers could act upon. VU meters can spin at the mention of an insurance brand, and then for a soda pop brand, but there’s no criteria by which the components of those reactions can be measured, compared or, most importantly, understanding how they were created in the first place. 

They guy is engaging, and seems to be making oodles of money talking to needy marketers. But his audiences are like mourners of the recently deceased; they’re sad and confused, and hoping that the promise of a better seance will help them better understand death. It won’t.

The challenge for brands today isn’t to taste, touch, smell, feel, or sound like something, but rather to do something…do things that are relevant, meaningful, and actionable in the real world. Marketing doesn’t have a senses problem, but rather a commons sense problem. 

Our channels haven’t failed us. Our content has.

Print advertising isn’t suffering because people don’t want to look at things anymore, or they’ve lost their ability to focus on static images. Radio isn’t outdated because you can’t read it the same time you listen. Video is great, but text doesn’t necessarily make it better.

If the content is irrelevant, meaningless, and leads to no subsequent action beyond a chuckle, it doesn’t matter if you communicate it via one or five senses. It’s still useless. 

So Entertainment Weekly readers can watch CBS propaganda on a postage-sized screen:

  • Does it capture the relevance of the programming? 
  • Will it communicate the meaning inherent in the glorious high-def imagery that gets piped or beamed into our living rooms? 
  • Most importantly, what are the easy, obvious, and unavoidable behaviors that result from witnessing the little movies…short of saying "oh, cool," closing the magazine, and leaving it on the floor of the bathroom stall?

I’d rather CBS tell me why I should watch its shows, and figure out a way to get me closer to doing so. Use words, images, music, scents, sandpaper, or hypnotic suggestion for all I care. 

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