Subliminal Advertising and Branded Utility

I found this video on Youtube a while ago and was reminded by Dalynn about it recently on her blog.

They don’t teach subliminal advertising at school. In fact, they don’t even mention it. But I’ve always thought that there has to be something behind all the academics callings us out for it. I’ve been wrapping my mind around the disconnect all of last week and this is what I’ve found:

We (ad people and consumers) unknowingly allow for subliminal advertising to happen.

In Douglas Rushkoff’s Persuaders, he talked about how the average consumer is becoming numb to marketing messages due to the incredible amount of clutter there is out there. The numbness consumers feel translates into them ignoring most of the message or evolving their mental filters to screen most of that crap out. And as practitioners, we’ve only become more aggressive with our tactics in reaching these consumers (think about multiple touchpoints, 360 messaging, etc.). However, the increased aggression doesn’t necessarily mean increased intelligence.

If you take a look at the video, I think it’s a good metaphor for how consumers process marketing messages and how it affects their decision making. The total immersion model surrounds the consumer with messages that become part of the landscape. The consumer, like the guys in the car, don’t even notice it, but subconsciously, it appears to have an effect but only if there is something to tie all those bits and pieces together. That effect, it seems like, needs to be triggered, which I would assume for the consumer would be at the decision making stage when all those bits and pieces get recalled and puzzled into a theme or a direction.

What this might mean is that almost everything we put out there could be considered subliminal advertising because of the way people interact with marketing messages as well as the media clusterfuck that we’ve created ourselves.

Why I say “almost” is that the new “thing” is to pull people to the message rather than pushing it on them. And one of the things that is driving the idea is branded utility. Jack Cheng has a great explanation of it here.

This is the money quote:

You can spend millions on a flashy ‘interactive’ campaign that people try to ignore or you can put that money towards building something that could actually improve their lives; something that they could use and interact with every single day; something that they’d actually seek out. At a time when people are constantly asking “what’s in it for me?” isn’t it blatantly obvious that the best way to engage someone is to be useful to them?

But at the same time, not even the smartest campaigns can save a bad product. Gareth Kay argues that sometimes we use branded utility as a means to sidestep the shortfalls of the product by creating another one. His argument, I think, leads us into a whole another territory regarding product development.

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