On the Campaign couch: Why should people engage with brands?
A view from Jeremy Bullmore

On the Campaign couch: Why should people engage with brands?

Have you noticed the industry belief that people actually want to engage with brands (on Facebook etc) is quickly losing favour?

Did you ever believe that people did?
I can’t say I did. But, there again, I can’t say I didn’t. It’s a foolish person who predicts anything these days. If 1,500 separate opinion polls all agree that a photo finish and a hung parliament are certainties for the 2015 general election and 1,500 separate opinion polls are all wrong, maybe it’s time to be less respectful of the experts and to listen more carefully to what the inner sample of one is suggesting.

I don’t know about you, but it never seemed at all likely to my inner sample of one that mature humans, in significant numbers and for any significant period of time, would choose to "engage with brands". Why should they? 

Do you remember your childhood Christmases and the mess around the Christmas tree on Boxing Day morning? Dozens of cheap and cheerful games and puzzles, all revealingly known as "novelties": torn open, played with for a few impatient moments and then carelessly, thoughtlessly discarded. And discarded without any sense of loss because the pleasure they gave was immediate enough but wafer-thin. Such enjoyment has no staying power; but then that’s the essential nature of novelties.

Online novelties behave like stocking-filler novelties, only more so. They’re like a playground craze but with the playground seething with millions of overexcited and competitive children; all showing off the novelty they’ve just acquired while already anxiously scanning for the next. 

Before you fall for the next cool prediction, sit down quietly with a mug of cocoa and ask your inner sample of one: knowing what you know about human nature, does this idea seem likely to give enduring satisfaction – or is it a novelty? You may be surprised to find just how wise you can be if you only bother to ask.

I’ve been spending a lot of time on social media lately and I’ve come to the conclusion that the younger generation is more narcissistic than any that preceded it. Does this make it easier or harder to market to them?
I find it extremely difficult to believe generations can change so much so quickly. We humans have crept along for a few hundred thousand years, perhaps adding a brain cell or two in the course of a century; and then, suddenly, we’re supposed to believe that an entire generation can become narcissistic in the time it takes for their mothers to become grandmothers.

I think it far more probable that the internet, for the first time in human history, has allowed us to expose our narcissism (and bigotry and sadism and self-obsession) without fear of shame or retribution. Where once we might have written a single poison pen letter and dropped it through a letterbox under the cover of darkness, now we can distribute our poison to an infinite, largely unknown audience under the protective shield of anonymity. Matthew Parris has written about "The brutalising effects of social media" – but, of course, the brutalising comes not from this entirely dispassionate medium itself but from those who choose to use it. 

It’s depressing to think that, for hundreds of years, we’ve believed ourselves to be a great deal nicer than we actually were and it’s taken an industrial revolution to lift the lid and reveal us for the self-obsessed and cowardly creatures we’ve been all along.

But then, I suppose, social media could still turn out to be a novelty? (See above.)

I can never seem to arrive at work on time. What do you suggest I do?
I love the way you attempt to detach yourself from any personal responsibility for this routine incompetence. It reminded me of the golfer who, interviewed at the end of a losing final round, explained: "My putter let me down."

I can tell that you’re genuinely mystified that you never seem to arrive at work on time: how can this be, you wonder. Well, I’ll tell you. There’s a part of you, like the putter, which is constantly letting you down. It tells you that you’re leaving home on time when you’re not. And that’s why you never arrive on time. (You don’t just seem not to; you don’t.) 

So be ruthless. Dismiss your putter person. Set a new departure time and stick to it. You’ll feel triumphant.

Jeremy Bullmore welcomes questions via campaign@haymarket.com or Campaign, Bridge House, 69 London Road, Twickenham, TW1 3SP