09 Jul The sense and sensibility predicament in media
Much like Jane Austen’s novel back in the 19th Century, we have a Sense and Sensibility predicament in media right now. With the likes of Google and Apple recently making their phone screens less addictive, marketers will have to drop the romantic notion that they can continue imbibing consumers with unlimited attention grabbing tactics and use more sense to make smarter connections.
The attention economy, with its plethora of distracting content, is perhaps a false economy. Or at least a huge irony, given how little attentiveness is to be found in mass media. According to studies, mobile phone screens alone take up 3-4 hours of people’s time per day. The New York Times recently predicted that we’ve hit Peak Screen and that consumer attention has maxed out. The tech companies are clearly aiming to get ahead of this by providing features that help reduce screen addiction. That includes reducing advertising noise. Microsoft Edge is the latest device to ship with ad blocking software built-in.
So, what then for a marketing industry that, for decades, has been obsessed with attention? Just like Austen’s novel, the story might initially erupt as a tragedy, but it could have a happy ending whereby businesses find a more harmonious and sustainable way to engage with their communities.
For this to happen, we must first recognise that nobody wins in a world where squirrely audiences flit aimlessly from one piece of attention grabbing content to another. Effective communication requires an audience to be somewhat attentive. Marketers, therefore, should encourage tech companies to give users more control of their attention. It may seem counterintuitive, but reducing screen time and distracting, attention grabbing noise will benefit marketers enormously.
Secondly, Marketers can appeal to people by being more discerning and having the discipline to know what not to say. This means knowing when not to use mass media; to resist the urge to shout more and; to know when the message is no longer relevant. Ultimately, sense will have to rein over sensibility to ensure a sustainable media landscape and attentive audiences.