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The Age of Boredom

A bored austronaut look through a window in his spaceship

I’m in a cinema watching a re-run of Star Wars Rogue One. I look around and I notice that many of those people are not impressed by the movie at all. Actually most of them look like they are queueing up at a supermarket till.

Some of them aren’t even really watching the movie, rather checking their Facebook feed.

So I’m sitting there, thinking about what my mum and dad once told me about the first time they saw Star Wars, back in 1977.

They were amazed. Everyone was amazed. They kept talking about it for months and couldn’t figure out how those guys made all those light sabres and spaceships.

1977 Imperial-Class Star Destroyer
1977 Imperial-Class Star Destroyer. Good mileage, shield needs replacement.

Looking around in the cinema I asked myself: “How did it happen that we passed from being amazed by those special effects, to be bored by the incredible special effects of today’s movies?”

Please notice that I’m picking this event just to exemplify something that I’ve noticed is going on in the communication field since the last 10 years, and to ask myself these questions:

  • Is the perfect depiction of alien worlds, spaceships and sword fights not enough to grab our attention anymore?

  • If so, what would it take, with an audience like ours, to get noticed as a brand?

I’d like to understand this phenomenon from a design and business perspective.

“What would it take, with an audience like this, to get noticed as a brand?”

Expanding one’s audience and engage with it, is the constant challenge faced by companies and design and marketing agencies every day.

How can we grab people’s attention, if even multi-million dollar blockbusters struggle to do that?

Maybe with a little less marketing analysis and a little more creativity.

Let’s go back a bit, before the digital revolution. Before it, Creatives were amongst the best paid (and admittedly the most spoiled) people in the advertising and design industry. Back in those days, some companies trusted Creatives more than market experts.

Companies like Olivetti, Apple, Benetton, IBM, Disney and Toyota, just to pick a few, made extensive market researches AND THEN relied on their Creative Minds in order to come up with something great.

Paul Rand's IBM logo
Paul Rand’s IBM logo. So literal AND YET so lateral…

Looking back at the last few decades, we can state that this approach worked out pretty well for both companies and customers.

Creative folks had it all. They created campaigns, products and services that are still leading the way right now, half a century later.

With social media exposure, the game, that started to change after the rise of personal computers, turned completely upside down.

Creatives started to be subtly considered as human operators of a machine and marketing data started to lead the way in the place of creativity and lateral thinking.

We could lay back on our rocking chairs now and recall the days before Facebook when no one had an online profile with real information on it and we were all wearing metaphorical dungarees.

Life before Facebook.

In the creative industry, in the beginning, it all made sense. “Sure!” someone must have said “…we…we can see what they like…we can see what they buy…we know where to find them…it’s just a matter of giving them what they want when they want it! Perfect!”.

It seemed that one could stack people very well into categories and feed them whatever content.

Didn’t we know everything about them? Didn’t we know what they like or dislike because of their Facebook, Youtube and Amazon choices?

So it should have been easy to sell them products. Right? Not really. In fact, it didn’t happen as we expected it to happen.

It was all a hoax.

Like a transparent marketing bubble, that now is slowly fading while we are still living in it, this engagement oriented marketing strategy is wearing us down.

New media and their content are wearing us down.

It is silently draining people’s most valuable asset: attention.

Conversion rates are very difficult to improve, simply because cutting through the noise and reaching one’s community is a real challenge.

“It was all a hoax. A Transparent marketing bubble that now is slowly fading while we are still living in it.”

It took technology (and the audience) the last two decades to catch up with the Dot-com era expectations.

Only now, we shop on Amazon regularly and buy Christmas presents directly from another country.

Designers, marketers and companies alike, we all thought that social media insights would have led the way to an Eldorado of business opportunities.

The reality instead is that this approach is creating a counterintuitive side effect: the more we target our audience precisely, with bespoken, high quality and engaging content, the more the audience’s expectations are raised

People (we included) expects free, fast, fun and flexible services, ads and products. It’s not enough to have a good brand and be active online. That is expected. To really reach your audience companies have to really go the extra mile.

Paid Social Eden… Expectations VS Reality.

From a customer perspective there’s no space for ‘average’ products anymore and yet strangely, more and more products, services and campaigns tend to be increasingly plain.

The more the audience is difficult to please, the more companies try to play safe.

From Apple’s less than groundbreaking iPhone Gold, down to Starbucks extra-pc “season greetings” cups.

This loss of courage, personality, creativity, boldness and is costing millions even to iconic companies.

To some extent “playing it safe” is a well-known approach for some corporations, but we are seeing this trend more and more in smaller companies too.

“From a customer perspective there’s no space for ‘average’ products anymore and yet more and more products, services and campaigns tend to be increasingly plain.”

I mean. Don’t take me wrong. Personalized marketing is great.

But the audience ever-rising expectations and needs paired with a developing AI will flatten the field so much that we will have to invent something new in order to make brands and companies stand out in the market.

Do you remember the famous quote from Henry Ford: “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said ‘faster horses’.”?

The ‘chase them/please them’ approach, won’t work for long a simple reason: it looks into the past, not into the future.

It looks at what people liked yesterday, not at what people will need tomorrow.

Marketing insights are fundamental to understand the audience and give the Creatives the background they need to come up with a good idea. But without creativity, they can’t innovate or change the status quo.

“The ‘chase them/please them’ approach won’t ever work for a simple reason: it looks into the past, not into the future. It looks at what people liked yesterday, not at what people will need tomorrow.”

The problem is that leading by marketing is having a reduced return compared to ten years ago. It’s not performing, in run-of.the-mill AD campaigns, or in keyword-full content on social media and websites.

On the user side instead, people are literally paying to get rid of ads with premium subscriptions.

They are installing ad-block plus on their browsers.

They are scrolling away as fast as possible from sponsored ads on their Instagram feed…

Many people thought that digital market data was a better way of predicting the success of a product or service, rather than relying on creative people’s intuition.

We are now seeing that data and insights without creativity and bold ideas are yielding somewhat limited returns.

Steve Jobs, once he said:

“Creativity is just connecting things. When you ask creative people how they did something, they feel a little guilty because they didn’t really do it, they just saw something. It seemed obvious to them after a while. That’s because they were able to connect experiences they’ve had and synthesize new things.”

People (we included) are bored because we are overexposed to too much content. How can a brand get through this? Especially without creating even more noise?

I personally believe it can be done only through creativity. By leaving more space to creative people, by informing them with marketing insights and then trusting their advice.

Creative people are the only ones able to turn those 200 pages of marketing documents into a one-liner people will remember.

The one between Marketing and Creativity is a fine balance. Too much Creativity and your project might bomb. Too much marketing and you might leave your audience indifferent.

Ultimately, only creativity can really give ‘business’ a soul

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