Opinion

Pleasure and purpose is the perfect context for memorable advertising, says Magnetic's Sue Todd

Yesterday we brought advertisers, agencies and Magnetic stakeholders together in Manchester to consider the changing role that magazine content plays in consumers' lives and what this means for advertisers.

Sue Todd
Sue Todd

Our conversation was contextualised by what we believe are the most seismic set of macro conditions in marketing since the birth of consumerism and advertising in the 1950s.

There are an unprecedented set of conditions facing advertisers – the first is the changing nature of attention.

Strong work by Microsoft, amongst others, is helping quantify the extent to which our average attention spans are dropping and within that, the changing nature of sustained attention (where we have a prolonged and single focus) versus alternating attention (where we rapidly switch between content). 

We are at the beginning of understanding the effect of these changes on the consumer’s brain. There is an emerging hypothesis that whilst our brains will adapt over time and become more efficient at switching, we are also seeking to balance this with long-term content moments that are more immersive in nature and require sustained attention.

The next condition is the anxiety of the consumer. Neuroscientists are flagging one profound and direct effect of this changing attention, which may also underpin and explain this evolving behaviour – anxiety. 

Daniel Levitin, author of the bestselling book, The Organised Mind, makes the clear link between increases in alternating attention and anxiety with his eloquent explanation that more of the stress hormone cortisol is released as we rapidly switch. The growing demand for mindfulness techniques is a direct response to this rising anxiety, and we feel, gives some clear pointers to where quality content will increasingly fit into the consumer’s repertoire.

The third condition, which has perhaps the most direct and obvious link to marketing effectiveness, is receptivity to advertising. Compelling evidence (presented by Sue Elms from Millward Brown in Manchester) shows that we really might be facing our own climate change issue regarding attention and receptivity to ad environments if we don’t clean up soon.

These factors clearly stretch way beyond a magazine publishing event and debate, but are profoundly important to us all.

Our hope is that the event in Manchester has sparked an ongoing conversation about how we can work better together to balance the huge opportunities that arise from these changes.

So what can Magnetic directly contribute to this debate? 

We looked to the world of behavioural economics and neuroscience, as well as some of the UK’s foremost creative content makers to help us understand the role of magazine media and how publishers might be best played to help.

The work of Paul Dolan, Professor of Behavioural Science at LSE, inspired us to better understand the role that content and media could play as a potential antidote to rising consumer anxiety. We applied his frameworks for building happiness and well-being over time – the pleasure/purpose principle – and measured in-the-moment satisfaction derived from various experiences.

Although all media and content experiences contribute to pleasure or purpose to some extent, we found in our research that magazine media is unique in that it does both, across print and digital.

We also found that although media consumption doesn’t shift well-being to the same extent as the big life-changing events, it can have a positive effect, and indeed did so when it came to magazine content and our research showed that it changed for Millennials by as much as 12 per cent. So these consumer findings might explain why ongoing demand for our content is high, but why should this matter to advertisers? Well for one thing because there is a link between attention and experiences that make us happy, as Paul Dolan explains in his book Happiness by Design

Secondly, when engaged in a content moment which fulfils the needs for pleasure and purpose, the consumer is in a more positive mindset and shows greater receptivity to advertising.

Thirdly, we know from neuroscience that to maximise communication effectiveness, we need to impact the brain in two ways – emotion and memory, and whereas pleasurable content experiences drive emotional responses, we also need purpose to help encode those messages into long term memory. When it comes to effective communication, pleasure without purpose is entertainment, but not necessarily great advertising.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly for media practitioners, as opposed to the content creators, is the fact that context matters and colours our perceptions.

The idea of contextual relevance, the pairing of advertising with relevant programming, is well established. The rise of behavioural economics has only served to extend this practice and today we see it being applied to influence a whole range of behaviours.

The interlinked roles of emotion, memory and personal relevance are particularly powerful in a context where our brains are in a receptive state.

It’s clear from our research that magazine media is uniquely successful in satisfying both ends of the "pleasure/purpose" spectrum and creates an incredible welcoming context for brands and advertising.

We don’t have all of the answers or think that magazines stand alone in being able to help with these marketing challenges. I am convinced however that there is increasing value in putting the advertiser at centre of what is happening. We need to work closely with brands to help them achieve share of receptivity, not just share of voice, and ensure that their advertising provides pleasure and purpose in people’s lives.

Sue Todd is the chief executive of Magnetic

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