Tuesday, May 22, 2012

On not ignoring noise.

I am reading right now Jon Gertner's new book "The Idea Factory: Bell Labs and the Great Age of American Innovation." It tells the stories of experimentation and breakthrough among the theorists and scientists at one of America's most innovative, advanced and anti-Semitic laboratories.

Last night I read further into the development of the transistor, one of the essential building blocks of the digital age. I also came upon this flow chart created by Claude Elwood Shannon. He claimed, and I think he is right, that "all communication systems could be thought of in the same way, regardless of whether they involved a lunchroom conversations, a post-marked letter, or a radio or telephone transmission."

I've worked in the communications business for all my adult life. I used to write catalogs for Montgomery Ward. Houseware ads for Bloomingdale's. Traditional print ads. TV commercials. Websites. Banner ads. Radio commercials. Direct mail. I've created large-scale events. I've even written speeches and annual reports.

What I've learned through the years is that most clients and most agencies forget the middle portion of the schematic above.

They forget there is a noise source which must be overcome.

There are channels, of course, that give themselves permission to ignore noise. They believe their "one-to-one-ness" allows them to be so relevant that they automatically overcome noise. The old direct dicta "list, offer, creative" for instance, says in effect that noise can be obviated by targeting. I fear much of the digital world similarly forgets that noise matters. Great experiences are created but few think about what interferes with viewer's engagement with those experiences.

Today it can be argued that there is more noise in the system than ever before in the history of mankind. Yet most channels, i.e. Facebook make very few provisions for impact. Impact, of course, can come from an adroitly placed conversational thread. But, as so many forget, it can also come from an idea, an execution, a celebrity, the size or the "motion" of an ad.

It never fails to astonish me that TV networks and cable stations refuse to sell media time in uneven increments. If my commercial works best in 27 seconds, or 37 seconds, why can't I buy that time? Computers can make sure that things add up evenly over time. In other words, I should be able to buy a :27 if you can sell someone else a :33?

Our job as communicators involves primarily the overcoming of noise.

We must use every tool and then some to do so.


Kirkistan said...

That old diagram maybe is accurate for delivering sound (and noise, as you point out), but it's not a useful diagram for how communication takes place. I get that you're talking about technology not humanity. But the feedback loop between human receiver and human source is part of what eliminates noise in a conversation. And that loop includes all sorts of human stuff like motivation, desire, and every emotion under the sun. Thanks for the thoughtful post.

Androw said...

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