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Influence and Power in the Age of Proximity

A smart man once said that advertising is inherent a medium of information (stop looking forward to Cannes, you art assholes and sell something). Just as adcraft affects the transmission success of information messages, communications media equally affects advertisements. Sending a round message through a square hole doesn’t work. 

Think about how objects have a measureable spatial existence that makes them relatable to other physical objects. These measures are:

length x width x height

(for simplicity, let’s not worry about the fourth dimension, time). Advertisements exist in a similar space. We can define the space in which ads exist by:

reach x immediacy x proximity

[Real] advertising leaps forward with the emergence of new media for information to travel through. It wasn’t until recently that technology has allowed for a full realization of the last dimension, proximity. Consider the transition between 2D and 3D images; it’s similar in this case.

Let’s talk about reach and immediacy first.

The Long Arm of Now

The printing press is really the first paradigm shift that changed the relationship between businesses and consumers. Let’s call this the beginning of the Age of Reach. Before mass printing, an ad message could only travel as far as a cryer’s voice. Now you could mass produce a piece of information and constantly send it over long distances without suffering from the “telephone game” syndrome. But, that took a lot of time.

Broadcasting media sought to close the time between information publishing and information reception. In the Age of Immediacy, messages could be sent across extremely vast distances at nearly real time speed. The power of broadcasting media is wonderfully illustrated in the efficiency of the 1960s Civil Rights movement. Gathering public support at the same time ensured a consistent messaging that was able to coalesce into a tidal wave that crashed over American minds and laws.

There is a third dimension to information. Because of digital media, we can live in the Age of Proximity.

The Companies We Keep

The cost barriers to enter advertising are extremely low. As a result marketers are flooding the airwaves, the Internet pipes, roadside estate with advertising message. Digital media is oversaturated with ads. So much so, deriving value from content is tricky. As a civilization, scarcity determines value; however, digital units can be infinitely reproduced without degradation of quality. Traditional scarcity as a metric for value dwindles with an endlessly exponential surplus. For a long time, this future has been a looming famine for those interested in making money. Industrial media have collapsed because they couldn’t endure or adapt. Consumers are undeterred by the struggles admen face against relevancy.

As new media hurl us further down this path, smart marketers are finding new value in the grand equalizer that is social media. Outside of Facebook — whom I hope chokes on a soggy gym sock (in private, of course)– social media has granted users with an unprecedented access to ANYONE with online access. The problem is that there is too much access, too much noise. The solution is a pretty natural one: we value messages from the people we trust the most. This is the proximity brands are mimicking for survival.

Cavalcade of Characters

Brands are working overtime building relationships through which they can gain that emotional connection that will bring them closer to our wallets.

It was one of the Big Three, Leo Burnett, to bring advertising mascots to popularity. Pitchmen like Tony the Tiger, and the Marlboro Man were characters who were related so that an emotional bond can be made, even if it was a simple one of familiarity. Half a decade later, many admen are doing the same on social media… and fail.

Yeah, Wolfdog. I’m talking to you.

You just can’t fake authenticity. Apple’s success rests solely on the close involvement Steve Jobs had with its marketing. Jobs was Apple. CEOs and figureheads who go to bat for their brands will always win the hearts of consumers. People to keep an eye on (especially on Twitter):

  • Elon Musk (Tesla/Space X)
  • Shuhei Yoshida & Jack Trenton (Sony Games)
  • Richard Branson (Virgin)
  • Eric Schmidt (Google)
  • Bill Gates (Bill & Melinda Foundation)

Muah! Those folks are advertising that money can’t buy.

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