Friday, March 20, 2009

The Psychology of Circumstance (The End of Campaigns As We Know Them?)

In looking back at some of the great forms of iconic media content created during my youth - everything from Life cereal's "Mikey", to SmithBarney's "We make money the old-fashioned way: we earn it", to Seinfeld's oddball scenarios (loved the "Frogger" episode) - the beauty of circumstance unfolds in such a way that challenges us to imagine how we can put ourselves in situations where even subtle things can produce extraordinary shifts in perception. It also calls into the question the means for engaging people in increments of time, as in the case of network programming or campaign constructs.

Media has created a pathology for us, and the content we identify with is the blueprint. After all, we do live vicariously through our favorite show characters, movie mavens and sports stars. What's changing now is not only the relationships we have with those icons, but the people behind them. Further, myriad new communications tools are leaving us to chance, so that our interactions are not so much scripted, but inspired and truly collaborative in nature.

When you examine the concept of an ad campaign - in which there are distinct in-points and end-points - this seems counterintuitive, and in many ways counterproductive to the idea that a brand should not be bound to a lifecycle, but rather built around affinities that give it immortality, or, a shared legacy. If we borrow from Heidegger for a moment and look at this from a metaphysical perspective, in which we accept that time is merely a manufactured device to establish intervals between events, then we can also assert that a brand's legacy is at great risk.  

Granted, we live in a world of convention, so compromise is important as well as something to be valued. So, we can't do away with time per se, but we can extend it and make it feel indefinite. Regarding content, as Faris Yakob recently stated, this function goes beyond a viral capacity and into a "spread" scenario. Which means that as marcom agents, we need to think about the legacy mechanisms of a brand in every piece of code we develop, every design we craft and every byline or storyline of copy we write. And we also need to think big picture: that these assets live in perpetuity as dynamic representations of the brand. There are a number of great agencies like AKQA, Razorfish and Tribal DDB who have built successful initiatives by paying close attention to this.

So let's stop thinking about media in terms of silos, and think about them in terms of scalability and adoption. Campaigns have been designed, in large part, to compartmentalize messaging. But when the functions of that messaging can live outside of time parameters and provide real utility and personalization, then we are creating a whole new world of possibility.

Nike/Livestrong's recent Hope Rides Again initiative is a great example of this. The effort is described as "building a grassroots movement to help raise awareness, fund research and end the stigma that many cancer survivors face". People are then inspired to show their commitment to this cause by "filling sidewalks, driveways" and other places within our everyday physical environment to show a statement of intent, in turn making the overall message individualistic and personal. The point here is that long after the little yellow boxes of chalk are distributed and the brand ambassadors are tasked with new jobs, the brand legacy will continue to develop and live on...or in this case, live strong

As for the psychological component of everyday circumstance, we need to remember that purchases, as well as the commitments we make to brand initiatives, are emotionally driven. The emotional self is loud and colorful, while the spiritual self is quiet and not rooted in language or rhetoric. This leaves us with an interesting quandary, which is to try to be in the moment so that the two parts of the self can communicate, and thus bring us into a state of enlightenment, where we are fulfilled in the choices we make. The key here is to examine behavior in such a way that we can identify some sort of context for "enlightened action".

It's time (pun intended) that we embraced this principle and deferred to human truth to lead the way, whether we are creating ads or simply going about our lives. So go out there and spread your message!

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