Backing off to see what it takes to reach overly connected consumers


I kicked off my blog post last month with a lengthy conversation on consumer centricity. This time around, I’ve decided to wander down a less-treaded upon path.

You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to know that media proliferation has escalated beyond all projections.

A piece published some time back by The Newspaper Association of America was quoted as saying, “Not too long ago, the average American was exposed to over 3,000 advertising messages in the average day. Today, you get that many before breakfast!”

From the moment you wake up to Katy Perry’s “Firework” as the pre-set alarm piece on your “i” or Android device, until the time you drift off counting sheep to the pounding rap of Eminem’s “I Need a Doctor,” you would have crashed and collided with an avalanche of media platforms delivering what would seem to an un-ebbing spew of commercial messages, slogans, selling propositions, voice shout-outs, more – in other words, a raucous barrage of hard-selling, in-your-face product and branded communiqué.

The ad decibels infiltrating today’s urban municipalities across the globe have gotten so intense that people are seeking much-needed therapy to relieve them of this affliction. Or should it be … addiction?

A major part of the blame for this unprecedented phenomenon must fall on the exponential rise of technology, which has resulted in vomitus rollouts of smart devices in the name of uplifting our efficiencies and improving our productivity.

Unfortunately, this is perceived by many of us as stretching our lives beyond realistic and manageable proportions. This infectious circumstance has become so overly daunting these days that affected folks are desperately seeking refuge away from the blistering onslaught of new gadgets and inventions that they once welcomed with open arms.

In the perspective of time, it is startling to realise that all this has taken place across barely one generation. A serious situation of a “paradoxical anomaly” now exists where the more ways we have to connect is being juxtaposed with more people severely wanting to unplug.

We have gone from knowing nothing about anything to knowing too much about everything – a situation that is alarmingly overwhelming, both to our health and our sanity!  

According to author Nicholas Carr in his book The Shallows, the average American spends at least 8.5 in front of a screen. Internet rescue camps are hugely prevalent in China and Korea to save kids who are enslaved to the screen.

From reports, enrolled teenagers are put through obstacle courses, engage in group counseling sessions, and participate in pottery and drumming workshops. These affected kids firmly believe that spending up to 18 hours a day on the computer is the norm.

Research has found that the average office worker today enjoy no more than three minutes at a time at his or her desk without interruption.

Pico Iyer, in his opinion column entitled “The Joy of Quietl” which appeared in The New York Times’ Sunday Review on December 29, 2011, had this to say about the situation:

“The urgency of slowing down – to find the time and space to think – is nothing new, of course, and wiser souls have always reminded us that the more attention we pay to the moment, the less time and energy we have to place it in some larger context.”

He went on to quote French philosopher Blaise Pascal who, in the 17th century, wrote: “Distraction is the only thing that consoles us for our miseries, and yet it is itself the greatest of our miseries.”

An interview with world-renowned designer Philippe Starck revealed that one of the major reasons he has remained so consistently ahead of the curve was that he never read any magazines or watched television.

In addition, he never attended cocktail parties or dinner events. It has been said that his creativity can largely be credited to the fact that he lived outside the conventional norm.

Iyer goes on to mention about those who part with US$2,285 a night to stay in a cliff-top room at the Post Ranch Inn in Big Sur pay partly for the privilege of not having a television in their rooms.

He is quoted to say that “The future of travel, lies in black-hole resorts, which charge high prices precisely because you can’t get online in their rooms.”

Having read all this, you must be wondering if the situation today is starting to get out of hand. Instead of wanting everything quick and “yesterday,” it does seem that there are those who genuinely favour slowing down the pace of information and data delivery.

Mr. Carr, the gentleman I mentioned earlier, shared the results of a series of tests where subjects were placed in quiet rural settings. In his words, they “exhibit greater attentiveness, stronger memory, and general improved cognition. Their brains become both calmer and sharper.”

American author and poet Henry David Thoreau was quoted as saying: “We have more and more ways to communicate, but less and less to say.”

Today, a tsunami of information awaits us instantaneously at the end of every keystroke. The overload of facts, figures, commentaries, opinions, charts, pictures, and comments still requires the user to process what is directly relevant to his or her needs.

This is akin to a situation where we just have too many choices in which to select from – a good “problem” for some and a stressful one for others!

In his piece, Iyer mentions two journalist friends of his who observe an “Internet Sabbath” every week by turning off their online connections from Friday to Monday morning, so as to try and revive those ancient customs known as family meals and conversation.

Acknowledging all these intensities that are inherent in our world today, the question we need to ask ourselves has got to be: “What must marketers do to effectively reach out to the cluttered noise-laden, media-inflicted victims of modern-day existence?”

I have no model answer but would like to offer an intended directional.

If you’ve watched “Now You See Me,” a 2013 film about a team of magicians that pull off heists, you may remember the lead character, Daniel Atlas (played by Jesse Eisenberg), saying to his audience, “Let me warn you. I want you to follow. Because no matter what you think you might know, we will always be one step, three steps, seven steps ahead of you.

And just when you think youre catching up, thats when well be right behind you. And at no time will you be anywhere other than exactly where I want you to be. So come close, get all over me; because the closer you think you are, the less youll actually see.”

So instead of jumping headlong into finding new and novel ways of cutting through the commercial clutter, enhancing consumer engagement, enabling greater connectivity, empowering innovation, evoking response, and enabling reach, perhaps it’s time for marketers and advertising folks to take a step back.

In doing so, we might be able to see “more” of what it really takes to connect with “the consumer of the now.”

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