MARKETING…THROUGH THE AGES
Age of ATTENTION – Age of ATTRACTION – Age of ADVOCACY – Age of ABSORPTION
About fifteen years ago or so, Advertising Age ran a one-page article entitled “Living in the Age of Attraction.” The gist of the article was a contrast between America’s longstanding “attention economy” (roughly running from the early 1950s through the early 1990s) and its new and distinctly different “attraction economy.” However, more to the point, the article postulated that to succeed as a brand marketer in the attraction economy, marketers “must emotionally connect with consumers.” The economy and marketing within that economy had shifted dramatically: from one of interruption to engagement; one-way speaking (i.e., Company-Brand to Consumer) to two-way dialogue; and from focusing primarily on heavy users to attracting “inspirational customers” (those who find their brands inspiring and are passionate enough to inspire others to join them).
At the time, we found this article both accurate and practical. We sometimes shared the article with clients to foster even stronger conviction toward unearthing and communicating a meaningful emotional benefit via a brand’s positioning strategy. We found it accurate not merely because of the attraction-enabling technological advances swirling around us then (mainly internet, Smartphones, and tablets), but also because of two other sea changes that had occurred and helped to obsolete the attention economy and its “win the attention-generating game” in the marketplace.
These sea changes included: (1) a dramatic increase in the number of customized product and media choices available to virtually everyone (i.e., no more “one size fits all”)—in nearly every class and category; and (2) the accompanying equalization of excellent performance across most of these choices…a kind of parity of superiority, if you will. In such an economy, in such a marketplace, speaking the loudest was insufficient and ineffective in drowning out all the other good voices and choices. Nor was having and sustaining a “meaningful and winning product performance claim” any longer all that feasible in most categories.
Now, however, we would argue that the Age of Attraction has further evolved—and darn quickly at that. It first evolved, quite naturally, into what we might term the Age of Advocacy. We say “naturally evolved” because if a key aim of the Age of Attraction was to seek out and welcome in consumers who would “inspire” others to join the brand tribe by their own passion for the brand, then, of course, such customers become brand advocates. But, it also seems that the Age of Advocacy has likewise passed, even more quickly. Where we appear to be now in our economy, and with the marketing demands within that economy, is in what we would term the Age of Absorption…an age that, more so than all previous ones, seems geometrically more difficult for marketers and their brands to succeed in. Just to be clear in our distinctions of marketing through the ages, what follows is a very topline synopsis of what distinguishes—and has largely driven (or is now driving)—each.
Age of ATTENTION (roughly, 1950’s—early 1990’s): As already noted, in these decades primarily earmarked by product categories with dominant share Brand Leaders (think Tide, think Coke, think Johnson’s Baby, think Budweiser) and by only 3 television networks (plus a precious few cable channels), marketers won with their brands via a combination of (1) product performance claim/distribution muscle superiority and (2) consistently owning the lion’s share of voice on TV—through mega GRP buys and a series of talked-about executions. As a small example, it wasn’t all that uncommon in the 1970s and ’80s for a dominant brand to announce product news by locking up a media “roadblock.” Such a buy delivered the same TV ad across all three major TV networks during a highly-rated primetime TV show…at the exact same time. Anyone watching TV on any of the three TV networks couldn’t avoid hearing the product news. You could definitely say that getting almost everyone’s attention was the name of the game.
Age of ATTRACTION (roughly 1990s to early 2000s): Again, as we have already highlighted, with the speedy breadth of internet and smart device availability, the ONE VOICE speaking from the mountaintop to everyone rather suddenly became a much more personal, even customized, two-way conversation. However, there was something else besides the communication technology (new media) going on: the ever-expanding addition of “coolness” to products, generally attributed first to Apple but carried out by many others (Dyson vacuums, Samsung TV’s, Guinness Draft Cans). Coolness was essential in stimulating mouth-watering “appetite appeal”…attraction!
Age of ADVOCACY (
Age of ABSORPTION (2015 to ?): The Age of Advocacy is probably not yet fully passed. After all, there remain (digitally, at least) a good many brand advocates and “belongers” to various brand VIP clubs and exclusive perks. However, it sure seems to us that a new age for marketers and brands is dawning, and at a pretty fast clip. It’s an age that’s obviously driven by the intensity of the average customer’s absorption into their devices and virtually innumerable media choices. No one needs a nationally representative, statistically significant study showing this absorption: all one needs to do is stop looking at one’s smartphone or tablet or laptop long enough to observe 85%+ of the people around us—at shopping malls, theaters, restaurants, parking lots, sidewalks, escalators (yikes!), airports, anywhere and everywhere—and how their attention is literally locked upon their devices. What’s a brand marketer today to do with nearly every potential customer spending 24/7 on their iPhone’s Netflix or Facebook app to “sneak into” such absorption? A few possibilities:
- Games! Team up with a major gamer company/brand and develop something original. Not something as passé 1980s as “product placement” within; no, something that enables access to an exciting new game experience only through some association or on-going commitment to your brand. Moreover, for demographic targets under, say 45, nothing is more pleasantly absorbing than a captivating video game.
- Give customers a chance to be a Star. Again, not merely a contest that rewards with casting a brand user in some advertisement; instead, some inventive way to, for example, enable “Facebook Stars.” Just recently, while working in Bangkok, Thailand, we observed one such Facebook Star—a woman of around 35 who, every evening for 2-3 hours, “hosts” her own live Facebook chat…sometimes while she’s eating, sometimes while she’s among friends. She also happens to own a well-known salon, which of course, she references casually. The night we joined in, there were 3000+ other viewers, many of whom were texting her with questions and comments throughout. What can she possibly be talking about of interest for 2-3 hours? Often not much; but it seems to matter not to the 3000…they’re too absorbed in “following” her each night.
- The Peloton Model. If you haven’t seen a Peloton Cardio ad, go on-line and take a look. These brand marketers have found a brilliant way to link their mechanical-device product with experiential technology (in the form of live coaching during one’s use of the product). Even better, they have found a way to make the most of a consumers’ absorption—in this case, their absorption in driving to reach new levels of fitness performance.
In thinking once more about this latest age of marketing we seem to be in, maybe it’s better termed the Age of (Self) ABSORPTION. But, whatever we call it, it’s going to take more new—dare we say, even outrageous–thinking to win in it.
Richard Czerniawski & Mike Maloney