We’re all familiar with the idea that the world is oversaturated with messages. Advertising seems to be everywhere, always trying to butt in. "What," we cry, "doesn’t have a brand tastelessly plastered over it these days?"
Well, actually, pretty much everything.
I’m sitting in a coffee shop as I write and looking around I see tables, chairs, plants, lights, crockery, windows, floorboards, toilets, people, clothes, tills, mirrors, and so on – none of which perform any kind of advertising purpose. They just are what they are.
The same thing is happening out on the street. Cars, doorways, rubbish bins, lampposts, trees, bike racks, street sweepers, benches – these are not advertising, they’re just things, doing their job. Useful things.
It seems that nothing that’s actually a real or useful part of people’s lives does an advertising job, only useless things like poster sites and flyers. What we should be looking at is the communication potential of actual objects, and of the jobs that they’re fulfilling.
Success by association
Every useful thing has built in associations and implications. If brands were to take responsibility for the things relevant to their message, they could create stealthy brand experiences, all the more powerful because they were creating a public service to boot, instead of just throwing up intrusive advertising road blocks as they tend to do now.
But would this type of ‘branded new world’ be a touch insidious, because in this alternate reality you’d effectively be living in the advertising.
But then, would that really be so bad?
Whotells in Barcelona rents out apartments for tourists that have been completely furnished by lifestyle brand Muji. This is a lovely example, working in exactly the right way, since simultaneously those rooms are impeccable, useful and cheap, while also accomplishing a powerful, but entirely unobtrusive advertising job. Muji does not need to stick a giant Muji poster on the wall for this to work. This tasteful, life enhancing piece of ‘advertising’ is archetypal of the way a world of ‘communicating objects’ should operate, whether they using your own products (as Muji have done), or appropriating new ones.
A migration of ad spend away from media spaces and into objects is probably a lifetime away. Agency skill sets, established marketing patterns, legal restrictions, and a raft of other annoyances will see to that. However, the lessons can be applied in modest ways within certain safer marketing spaces, such as experiential, sponsorship, brand partnerships and product placement. Those in themselves represent a world of opportunity, and are a great place to start.
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