arête and free samples

One thing I have been thinking about are notions of people’s filters. Modern humans are tuck in a sea of data and experiences- more then ever before. And while people are instinctively about pattern recognition, to do that we also have to be able to focus and filter out the noise. I think of a primitive hunter listening for the tell tale rustling of his dinner in the bush- and filtering out the other forest sounds. His ability to filter out the extemporaneous, and piece together the relevant sounds into a pattern allowed him to know where to strike, and thus feed his family.

Those same skills and instincts are needed for the modern world, as advertising and information increasingly has become our modern forest.

Anyway, a big part of marketing is to make advertising (something instinctively filtered by adults these days) fit a pattern of something the person is looking for. To rustle like an animal, as it were. The old tactics of increasing exposure, (plastering the ad on every surface the person sees) or ramping up the volume (screaming at the person) to cut through the filters is pretty much doomed to failure. People will eventually close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears, then put up with that kind of treatment. And then probably forever associate negative attitudes with that product or message.

And this really is more then about marketing- it is about communicating with other people, outside the personal one-on-one space.

I think that public protests, and demonstration marches are a broken form of communication. No matter how organized the marchers, how clever their signs and chants, or even how big their puppets are- they are no longer affecting people in they way they used to.

One thing that cuts through the filters is newness. When people encounter something new, then they have to cope with it. Once it becomes known, and old hat, then they are able to filter and ignore it. Protest marches in the 1960s were new, because they had never been televised before, and so for most Americans it was a new thing- and the messages of the protesters was communicated.

Much like how when email spam first appeared, it got high level of responses- people were not used to getting advertising in email form, and so they tended to respond to things like the Nigerian bank scam that they would not have paid attention to in any other format. They were new to the online media, and had no established context for filtering out the bad from the good, and would get suckered.

These days this really does not happen anymore- those not already open to the message filter out the with nary a thought. Whether it is an email ad, or a protest, or any other established means of inflicting a message on another, it has a filter.

Beyond newness, I have been thinking about how to use established cues to evade the filters. There are some cues that are considered safe, and get noticed. Simply because they are not typically exploited, for one reason or another, they would tend to get past those filters, and would be considered by the recipient. At least until they learn to discern it from the real McCoy.

AOL sought to lure more customers through their mailer CD. They sent out billions of those things, because unlike TV or magazine Ads, these actually had a pretty high response rate. People were not used to receiving CDs in the mail. It had a feeling of arête or of quality. You could throw away unopened junk mail, but a Computer CD? That seemed too valuable to drop in the trash. And so people’s filter was circumvented, and they had to pop that CD into their computer and deal with it.

Later people learned that the AOL CDs would keep coming, and they were just a new form of junk mail. AOL sent out more and more, but their response rate kept dropping. But then they sent out one, in a Jewel case, and the response probably went up. That was because unlike the cardboard mailers they had been using, now a CD in a Jewel case had arête again- it felt like a 15$ music CD. Still later AOL sent out a disk in a DVD case, and it had the same effect. It felt like it had value, and could not be dismissed easily. Later still, possibly at the apex of this marketing endeavor, they sent out the CDs in a custom metal tin case. That was some serious arête, and it because how could you not value something in a TIN?

I think in the end the cost of this tactic was prohibitively expensive, especially since AOLs problem was not getting new customers, but keeping retaining them. (Once people got their feet wet on the Internet with AOL, they would leave for less annoying services in about a year) Still, we have a powerful instinct to seek and respect quality in things. And the reason we filter things, is because they lack value. Make an ad have value on its own, and it it will not be filtered.

A case in point is the movie TV ads. Yes it is an ad, crammed between other ads. But it is also a ‘free sample’ of the final product. It not only something that lets you make a purchase decision, it also can be enjoyed for its own sake. People always line up for free samples, and other types of schwag, because it seems too valuable to dismiss.

Not brilliant or groundbreaking, but my interest is how to apply this to other areas then the marketing of films or breakfast sausage. How to apply it to Abstract concepts, or messages- the things that get most easily filtered out?