I’ve decided to take a different tact for this quarter’s column. Instead of laying onto you thick and hard my usual commentary on media buzz, I’m deliberately going the opposite direction so as to make a point. Media proliferation, as we all know, has shot through the roof. A piece published by The Newspaper Association of America was quoted to say, “Not too long ago, the average American was exposed to over three thousand advertising messages in the average day. Today, you get that many before breakfast! Have you seen the ads in golf holes, in bathroom stalls, on grocery register receipts and even in the sand on the beach?”
From the moment you wake up to Katy Perry’s “Firework” as the pre-set alarm piece on your iPhone or Android device, till the time you drift into sweet slumber from the pounding of Eminem’s “I need a doctor”, you would have collided with an extensive smorgasbord of media platforms delivering what seems to be an unending spew of commercial messages, ad slogans, selling propositions, interactive vouchers, and a whole load of branded communiqué. This is the world we live in these days! The “noise” levels in the environment have gotten so bad in many parts of the urban world that people have started to seek much-needed therapy to relieve them of this uncalled for addiction!
Part of the blame for this unprecedented phenomenon must fall on the technology that constantly generates an un-ebbing multiplicity of timesaving devices contributing significantly to expanding our lives beyond manageable proportions. This avalanche have become so daunting these days that contaminated folks are desperately seeking refuge from the once-welcomed slew of wonderful inventions that are now haunting and taunting them. And all this has taken place across barely one generation. I call this a “paradoxical anomaly” where the more ways we now have to connect is being juxtaposed with more folks 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 eight and a half hours in front of a screen. And this statistic, by no means, pertains only to our friends from the West. Internet rescue camps have sprouted up in China and Korea to save kids who are enslaved to the screen. The Korean facility is positioned as part boot camp and part rehabilitation centre. From reports, enrolled teenagers are put through obstacle courses, engage in group counseling sessions, and participate in pottery and drumming workshops. Psychiatrists believe that up to 30% of South Korean youths are at risk of internet addiction. These affected kids firmly believe that spending up to 18 hours a day on the computer is the norm. It hasn’t helped that dedicated gaming TV stations are ramping up their programming with ‘live’ telecasts of gaming leagues and high-stake contests which has garnered brisk support from a host of commercial brand sponsors.
I read that Intel, of all companies, experimented in 2007 by conferring four hours of uninterrupted quiet time every Tuesday morning on 300 engineers and managers. 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. Many of the online community have installed Freedom software on their computers. Developed by Fred Stutzman, a PhD student at the University of North Carolina, the Freedom app enables users to disable, for up to eight hours, their internet connections.
Pico Iyer, in his Opinion column entitled “The Joy of Quiet” which appeared in The New York Times’ Sunday Review in December last year, commented that “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.”
Iyer goes on to mention about those who part with $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 TV 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. This correlates somewhat to the resurgence of the “Slow Food” movement in many parts of the world where a healthy awareness of traditional cuisine has been put forth to counter the ill effects of highly-commercial fast meals. 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, he said that 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 to say: “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 key-stroke. The overload of facts, figures, commentaries, opinions, charts, pictures, 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.
I know of at least one person in my office who deliberately refuses to own or carry a mobile phone. To her, it’s still very much like the good ol’ days where you either reach her on her office phone or ring her on her landline at home. She just does not want to be a “slave” to an inanimate gadget. Of course I also know of hundreds of others who are perfectly fine leaving home without their wallets, but not without their cell phones! The mobile device is close to becoming an intrinsic part of the human anatomy. A friend of mine refers to it as an appendage that is so affectionately caressed, fondled, titillated, and pressed on ever so often!
The “multi-tasking” culture that reared its head sometime back, has since resurged in leaps and bounds. Many “connected” citizens of today are capable of doing 5 to 6 things all at the same time. New technologies and advanced operating systems are to blame for this – you just have to get into the Apple iOS4 to appreciate the fact that you can, with just one motion of a double-click, open up applications, work across various functions, receive alerts, send out a tweet, reply an email, key in an SMS – and doing all these while listening to a piece of music playing in the background! And now with easy-to-use voice activation protocols such as SIRI, everything is taken one step further!
If all the above are representative symptoms of the urban populations of the developed world, then the question we want answered must be: “What must marketers do to effectively reach out to these mediaoverladen folks?” I suppose that’s why practitioners have been bantering about cutting through the media clutter, enhancing consumer engagement, enabling greater connectivity, birthing innovative ad initiatives, introducing multiple touch-point strategies etc. All in the name of getting a better grip on the modern consumer at large! In this day and age of media proliferation, “media-unplugging” is a real phenomenon that we should confront rather than shun away from. And one of the fundamental keys to ensuring that your message stands out in the minds of your target audience must be through cutting-edge ideation! But how to do this is enough to fuel the topic for yet another entire discussion altogether.
by Geoff Tan
Contributed by Marketing Institute of Singapore