When did it become marketing orthodoxy that commanding more time and attention from consumers is good for brands?
If you think about it, the idea runs contrary to history, both distant and immediate. Here in America, talking about commerce was considered in poor taste up to the Jacksonian market revolution of the 1830s. Selling was simply something you did when people evidenced a need to buy, and then you did it at risk of losing the approval of polite society. Certainly your accomplishments doing so were always suspect (Dutch merchants strove to attain social acceptability hundreds of years prior, as did English merchants, and you can see the evidence of their large townhomes and mock-landed-gentry portrait paintings). They certainly weren't something to be celebrated: being a salesman was synonymous with wandering deceit and, even as recently as the 1950s, author Arthur Miller saw in the job a core of existential disappointment.
The role of media in this equation is more immediate but no less clear.
Commercial messages were considered a part of programming, whether in newspapers of the 1700s or on television in the 1950s, though they were considered notices, classifieds, or other forms of updates for the consumption of those who might be particularly interested. Early brands spent media dollars to talk about the lives of their customers, not necessarily the benefits of their businesses (AT&T was a pioneer of public advocacy marketing, being an early publisher of information in print; Mobil continued this practice with the invention of advertorials in the 1980s).
It took TV network programmers separating content from advertising and creating the interruption of a commercial message in the late 1950s to give birth to advertising’s Creative Revolution of the 1960s.
Then, the challenge was to create commercial messages that had an existence and value separate from the content that bookended it, and therefore had an outreach purpose to talk to consumers whether they were a priori interested or not. So advertising got funny, emotional, inside-jokish, and self-aware, evolving into an entertainment medium of its own. Awards were (and are) given for ads that were creatively brilliant. The rest of what had once been marketing -- the messy, uncool, and socially unacceptable behaviors of selling -- was relegated to the periphery. I remember when I worked at Grey Advertising in the 1980s and the direct marketing division was literally in the basement. Asking for a response? How gauche.
Advertising no longer sold...it engaged. This thinking still guides marketers today, and social media theorists are no exception.
So now it’s common to hear an agency person lecture about the importance of having an ongoing conversation with consumers. Marketers need to engage and produce content to keep in front of their audiences, and they can't produce the stuff alone but must rather involve said audiences in co-creation. The more the better. The proof? People like to talk, of course, and there's all this free technology that you need to fill up with stuff to fill up their time. Just go forth and produce, curate, edit, distribute, syndicate, blog, post, share, etc.
About two thousand years of history say this is the wrong approach, and that a marketing strategy in 2011 should be no different than one in, say, 1811:
- Talk only when you have something to say
- Say things that matter to people
- Give people reasons to listen and act upon what you’re talking about
- Don't abuse the above three points
Kinda simple, don't you think? Yet it's the exact opposite of what most brands are doing today. My prediction is that they're going to rue the day that they decided to waste peoples' time instead of treasure and respect it. Two thousand years of history can't be wrong.
(Image credit: We've Heard It Before)