At the end of October the great and the good of the outdoor media industry descend upon the British Museum for the annual Outdoor Media Centre and IPA conference.
Chaired by Paul Bainsfair, the subject of the morning was the role of Outdoor in a connected world - a world driven by ubiquitous internet access, and increasingly ubiquitous smartphones and tablets. All very apt given it was also the day that Everything Everywhere launched the UK’s first 4G network.
However, as a community of advertisers and marketing professionals it may be worth us pausing for a moment before we rush head first into any attempts to engage people in ever more interactive, connected, and quite importantly, participative advertising ideas.
The modern lexicon of branding is one built on notions of likes, engagement, participation, disruption, of fans - a lexicon predicated on the fact that people genuinely want to interact and have active, meaningful relationships with a huge repertoire of brands and products.
Conversely, brands have traditionally been thought of as passive - as heuristics, or rules of thumb, which aid decision making.
This view is one supported by modern neuroscience and behavioural economics; Daniel Kahneman’s stunning Thinking, Fast and Slow paints a fascinating picture of just how dominant the instinctive and almost automatic ‘system one’ part of the brain is in decision making and behaviour. Successful brands therefore, could be the ones we think about least.
Our ability to make advertising more engaging with the inclusion of QR Codes, NFC or Social media feeds for example, does not necessarily make our communications more effective, nor does it guarantee participation.
Before we rush to include the latest additions to the ever increasing marketing and media tool box, I think we should stop and ask ourselves a fundamental question. Why would anyone care? Why should someone take the time to stop and interact with our brand?
This may sound obvious, but in reality how often do we stop to ask ourselves what someone’s motivation would be before writing briefs or developing work? Does the use of these tools help us achieve our objectives or is it a box ticking exercise in the name of innovation?
Ed Cotton of Influx Insights provides a useful framework for thinking about how we can create brand behaviour which is inherently valuable, behaviour which provides people with a genuine reason to stop and engage with our communications.
He suggests that we ask ourselves "are you useful? Do you entertain? Do you educate? Do you facilitate or participate in social connectivity?" These questions provide a useful lens through which to look at ideas which require participation in this new connected world. There are already some excellent examples, especially in the out of home space, which is operating squarely at the intersection of media and technology.
Whether you’re thinking about Time Out magazine’s holding on the underground XTP network which delivers tips on the best things to do in London; Channel 4’s use of Aurasma to augment our print work for the Paralympics in order to introduce the stars of team GB and explain some of the complicated rules of Paralympian sport; the launch of Jay-Z’s book Decoded in association with Bing and Droga5 in the US; or even the Guardian’s SoulMates service - they all brilliant, connected and participative ideas which fulfil at some level one of Cotton’s pillars, and all are the better for it.
Unfortunately, this kind of work is the exception rather than the rule. Too often people are faced with work which asks them to do something that they have no interest or motivation to take part in, often for no real reason other than that we can.
If we’re to make the most of the opportunities afforded us by the new connected world we live in, we can benefit from asking one simple question. Why?