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Idea IS the format

The occasional downtime of Daniel W. E. Light

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Wednesday, 30 July 2008

Death of a door-to-door jumble salesman

I started twiddling the idea of anti-social marketing between my proverbial thumbs a week or two ago.

Anti-social marketing is television commercials.

It’s advertising hoardings, bus sides and posters on the underground.

It’s direct mail, leaflets through your letterbox and flyers underneath your windscreen wiper.

It’s banners, overlays and pop-ups.

It’s spam.

Some anti-social marketing thinks that by being creative and clever it can become artistic and intellectual and, ever so occasionally, it’s almost right.

More often anti-social marketing’s about people finding ways to interrupt our sentences in order to tell us about something we weren’t talking about, aren’t interested in and have no pressing need for.

The fact that we’re being interrupted may even predispose us negatively towards something we would have otherwise had a genuine interest in.

Instead we’re subjected to a process that’s as profligate in its indiscrimination as it is prescriptive in its approach, telling us what we should and shouldn’t think about something and why it is or isn’t of interest to us.

Anti-social marketing operates on the basic principle that our time and attention can be bought and sold in the marketplace. It does so with a brazen indifference to the question of how we might feel about that.

It’s a bit like being at a jumble sale.

(I think Americans call it a ‘yard sale’.)

There may be a few items of genuine interest kicking about. Maybe we’ll even buy something (even though it may well turn out that we didn’t really want or need it after all).

Most of the stuff will be junk though, of little more than curiosity value. We’ll peer down our noses at it for a little while then wander on.

Anti-social marketing is actually worse than being at a jumble sale. At least if we're at a jumble sale it's because we probably chose to be there, because we didn’t have anything better to do, and we had some time to kill, and we felt like killing it digging through a huge pile of vinyl on the off-chance of discovering a pristeen signed copy of Pet Sounds.

Anti-social marketing is more like a door-to-door jumble salesman.

He figures just because I have a door that gives him the right to knock on it. He knows that I’ll have to answer the door in order to find out who’s knocking, and that this will create a tiny window of opportunity in which he may be able to seize my attention with some random trinket.

He has to knock on a lot of doors, and he has to drag his box of jumble around with him. It’s hard work, but it’s all he knows, and he can always rely on the fact that if he knocks loud enough and long enough on enough doors sooner or later he’ll sell something to somebody (even though it may well turn out that they didn’t really want or need it after all).

He doesn’t really care how much of everybody’s time he wastes in the process. As far as he’s concerned his time is at a premium, and nobody else’s is. This is anti-social behaviour, and he is an anti-social marketer.

For a long time anti-social marketing was pretty much the only way anybody tended to find out about things they might want or need.

The only other way we’d find out about anything was word-of-mouth. Word-of-mouth was great, in that the person telling us about something was probably a friend of ours, who knew us reasonably well, and had our best interests at heart. The problem with word-of-mouth was that we could only have one conversation at any one time, in the pub, on the telephone or gathered around the office water-cooler.

Then we invented the internet. We invented email. We invented ICQ, and forums and notice-boards. We invented instant messaging, chat rooms, blogs and social networks. We invented a thousand and one ways for us to connect with like-minded people, and to effortlessly express our enthusiasm for something some of those people might want or need. Word-of-mouth became word-of-mouse, and we began to have a thousand conversations at once.

At the same time, the advent of interactive media created a problem for the door-to-door jumble salesman.

We could see him coming.

It became our new surveillance system; a network of platforms and media empowering us to filter out the noise. As we continue to engage with these tools, and the greater control they grant us, our mindsets change. We no longer accept the door-knocking as a fact of life. Some of us don’t even notice it, subconsciously blinding ourselves to banner ads on web pages, or using Sky+ to very deliberately skip the ads every time a commercial break comes on.

Instead we’re busier than ever talking to each other, about the things we love, the things we hate, the things we want and need. All around us ‘social marketers’ are igniting conversations, fanning the flames with genuine care and attention, and fuelled them with fresh content and collaborative creativity, growing colourful communities around the campfires of our bright ideas.


posted by Dan Light  # 08:44
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