Love Not For Sale

Continuing the thought, as Vin Scully would say… 

In the previous post, I teed off from a story in the New York Times business section about Robert M. Greenberg, a digital media pioneer, to raise questions about how many of the new ideas for slipping advertisements and PR spin into the public’s latest digital pursuits will actually garner the desired attention, and lead to “sales” — which I broadly define as “the message” getting through sufficiently to influence individual choices. 

So, I’m flipping through other sections of the Times that I skipped this morning, and found this column in the Sunday Styles section by Daniel Jones, summing up all he’s learned since he started writing on the topic “Modern Love.” 

You might want to read his clue-filled column if you’re trying to figure out how to utilize digital media to a marketing advantage. But don’t expect good news.

Here’s the problem.  Digital media has, forever, blurred the lines between the media we turn to for entertainment and enlightenment, i.e. TV, radio and newspapers, and the media we utilize for communications.

The way Daniel Jones sees it, when we turn on our computers, we expect to find love and sex on the other end.  Not merely depictions of love and sex. Actual liaisons. 

According to the personal accounts I’ve read, men and women today are apt to plunge into love affairs via text message, cut them off by PowerPoint, lie about who they are and what they want in forums and blogs and online dating sites, pretend they’re young when they’re old and old when they’re young, ignore the people they’re physically with for those who are a keystroke away, shoo their children off their laps to caress their BlackBerrys, and spend untold hours staring at pixilated porn stars when they should be working, socializing, taking care of their children or sleeping.

It begs the question: Has electronic communication officially become the most seductive mistress of all time?

For all the role-playing and infidelity one associates with life on-line, Jones also notes the life-changing experiences that result from cyberstalking, which he says “nearly everyone” does. You can find and reconnect with a past love, check out a potential date, monitor your ex, or mix and mingle via online dating.

When people are following this pursuit of love, my sense is, that’s not the only thing they’re  doing.  Attention is splintered among many different interests and needs.

They’ll pause from writing their seductive PowerPoint to check out how the Clippers are doing. They don’t want to see any ads; they want the score and then, click, back to their romantic lives. Soon enough, they’ll be watching a downloaded “Sopranos” episode, but insert their own break at the moment of their choosing, to flip to their inbox to see if the beloved has replied.  Or, they’ll watch a movie, but unblock their Instant Messaging only for special people who are allowed to interrupt. And, of course, make ample use of cell phones, Dodgeball and GPS to shadow their soul-mate while they cruise around town. 

Nowhere in all that multi-task romancing is there room for a message from our sponsors. I suppose that much is obvious to most marketers. “Vote for me” is a turnoff if deployed at an intimate moment. 

But, as more and more of life moves online, how is a marketer supposed to know where the customer’s attention is focused? Is it on business, personal life, education, or just chilling out?  Increasingly, that’s all going to happen within the same device: A convergence of telephony, web surfing, music and video player, contact list and portable office. 

This convergence will tend to make every moment a private one, where marketing is unwelcome, and where the device owner will demand total control of his or her own mindspace. 

The old models for advertising and PR depended, as Greenberg said, on a more linear focus.  We’d sit ourselves down on the sofa the same time every week and watch “The Beverly Hillbillies” — ads and all.  We’d read the newspaper first thing every morning, and through it absorb what the political spinners wanted us to know.  If we didn’t want to be pitched, we would just turn off the TV or radio, and shut the magazine or newspaper.  For most of the day’s waking hours, we were completely unplugged.

Now we take our communications media with us wherever we go. We have to. Our kids need to reach us, or our boss, or that woman you met online last night (at least you hope it was a woman.) That being the case, we don’t want any messages coming through our media that don’t fit our specific, ever-shifting agendas. 

If we want to be marketed, we’ll click our way into that marketing space, of our own volition.  Otherwise, it’s “How did you find me here? Leave me the f*** alone!”  That’s the challenge. Where, in this kind of environment, will there be any room at all for marketers to make impressions?  

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