Marketing and the Meteor Test

By Scott Johnson in Creative on July 5th, 2017

marketing communication, social media, marketing

I shall always remember the day a few years ago when it happened. I was stopped cold on a major news site by this headline. Next to it was an icon indicating that the story was accompanied by video of the event. I hesitated. Would it be worth my time to click on the link?

Think about how astonishing that question is. A credible news source reports that it has footage of a flaming chunk of rock from outer space that has hurtled through the atmosphere at several thousand miles per hour and smashed into the earth like a huge firebomb — all within plain view of a major American city. The sophisticated internet user’s response?

“Hmmm, maybe.”

This should terrify every marketer trying to attract the attention of consumers with a dazzling new website, app or interactive thingamabob. Come to think of it, it should terrify every marketer regardless of his chosen medium.

Marshall McLuhan famously said “the medium is the message”—a phrase so oft-repeated that its meaning has been scrubbed away almost entirely. NYU Professor Neil Postman made a notable improvement on McLuhan when, in Amusing Ourselves to Death, he wrote that “the medium is the metaphor.” What he meant is that the dominant medium of an age defines how people expect the world to be and, indeed, even changes the way their brains work. As the importance of interactive media continues to ascend, so too will the expectations of consumers that they should be able to control the images and sounds they see anywhere in the world just as they would when they’re in front of their computers or thumbing their smart phones. With this control comes an expectation of ceaseless amusement, and this expectation extends to advertising.

We already see social media sites giving consumers the opportunity to say which ads they don’t like, so they can be replaced with better, more relevant, more entertaining ones. Soon even television viewers won’t simply have to accept the ads that media buyers have targeted them with (they can already zoom past them with their DVRs, of course). Instead, they’ll have the option to choose the brands they want to sponsor the programs they watch. They’ll be presented with a menu of brands whose commercials they can select in exchange for free programming. The agencies that create the messages that get chosen and watched will be paid for them; the agencies that create the messages that aren’t, won’t. This consumer-controlled free market will be brutal but ultimately fair.

The consequence of all this is that we must now ask ourselves a question every time we create a piece of marketing communication: Does it pass the “Meteor Test”? In other words, is it so compelling, so magnetic, so laden with value that world-weary consumers who can experience virtually any image, movie or sound that has ever been created simply by moving an index finger will choose to grant us a few seconds of their day to view our branded message?

The marketing professional’s job is best approached with humility in the 21st century. Bear in mind, however, that humility and timidity are not the same thing. While recognition of the daunting challenges we face is completely rational, boldness is the only strategy with a hope of succeeding. In a media landscape that is pullulating with billions of options, all howling for a bigger piece of a shrinking pie, brilliant strategy and irresistible creative are the only answers.

Ready to pass the meteor test? Let BKV help!

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