Marketers and time

Traditionally, the price of media was interruption.

Brands would buy a moment in the spotlight on those relatively few platforms that controlled attention and a marketer would smash their way into your life across 30 seconds, X times per hour. Forever.

That quality time, doused in eyeballs, was a zero sum game and the more you could get your hands on, the more persuasively you could dominate that moment in culture. What’s more, there was no incentive to use less of your audience’s time. This bred a culture of disrespect for it.

Think about the amount of 30 second spots, or (worse) endless cinema spots that were so bad, you wish you could invoice that time back. Think about the patronising “aspirational” tone, the “revolutions” in a teacup. The talking apes, for Christ’s sake. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

a new dimension

The internet has pulled the rug out from under this power dynamic. Early attempts to force traditional advertising in front of audiences online has gone down very very badly. Popups, interstitials, banner ads, they just don’t speak the language of a hyperlinked world. And more importantly, they can’t really compete with the organic wave of content creators online who makes stuff perfectly timed just for the joy of it.

The internet is like an endless gong show for advertisers, with consumers only too willing and able to kill your interruption with a quick click of a red cross. This isn’t a “threat”, it’s a return to a more natural balance, get used to it. For too long has marketing revelled in its ability to hold the things we enjoy hostage until it has its turn to shout in our faces.

Every piece of marketing online is an audition. And the interesting thing about that small step toward meritocracy is that it reintroduces time as a valuable part of the equation. Brands have the opportunity to respect the time of their audiences, remembering that there’s almost nothing more valuable. Are you going to take it? Or are you going to invest in it?

how long have you got?

Much criticism is aimed at increasingly short modern attention spans. But ignores the relatively small proportion of genuinely interesting and stimulating stories among the noise of modern life. Most stuff is barely worth paying attention to for long — especially when there’s so much else on offer.

Using time effectively means focus, simplicity and concentration on clarity of message. It means really earning a spot of attention, not just buying it. And the incentive to keep it snappy also clear because if people want to learn more, it’s easier than ever for them to do so.

And that brings us around to Vine. Of all media, video has had the most difficulty with brevity. Except for online. Limited bandwidth and limited resources quickly established animated gifs as the language of moving pictures online. Necessity is the mother of all invention and if nothing else, invention is the core of all great marketing.

The current limitations and challenges for marketers are good for everyone. We are all starting to enjoy a healthier, more focused relationship with our time. Culture is shifting, marketing is shifting. 6 seconds, 15 seconds, a moment on Twitter a glimpse on Instagram: the result today is all the same:

If you’re going to put your ideas and your brand in front of people, wasting their time by hammering home nothing but your lengthy agenda will only do more damage than good.

Max Tatton-Brown is Founding Director of Augur, and writes about what’s next in the world of technology, marketing and startups. He blogs and writes for Wired, the Daily Telegraph and Econsultancy.

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