Friday, July 27, 2018

Humans. For better or worse.

One of the endemic failures of our modern marketing world is how in the name of humanity we have misread human behavior.

My top-most example of this is open-plan offices. Office space is the number one cost for many businesses. Open-plan seating would reduce costs. Pontificators, with wishful thinking, told us that community, collaboration and creativity would all be fomented if everyone was out and seated together at one giant table.

Those pontificators ignored a basic human truth.

People need a room of their own. They need a soupcon of space. A table that holds a picture of their children. The ability to control the lighting.

Things have been this way since the beginning of humans some 200,000 years ago.

I remember years ago reading a book—I forget which of the many he wrote—by the eminent urbanist William H. Whyte. He noticed that when people sit in a public space, they almost always reposition their chair before sitting. Look for yourself next time you’re in Bryant Park or some outdoor plaza, or even in a conference room down on six.

People move their seats not to better situate their chair or their ass. They do it to claim a space and make it their own. It's a semiotic thing if you want to get all deep-dish about it.

You don’t have to like that people need space. But you can’t make grand assumptions and proclamations about what people need without studying humans. Anthropological and evolutionary facts don’t usually align with marketing objectives, and marketers can't make them. No matter how hard or how often they try.

You might see the same thing if you think back to the early days of the digital revolution. I think the revolution started with someone saying advertising costs too much.

So the pontificators came in and said, digital advertising is cheap, and people will interact with it. Then they went further and said, on social, people will talk about your brand. They'll do our work for us. Even further, they said, people want to watch badly produced content on your brand if it’s well-targeted enough.

All of that ignored what people really think about brands or how much.

All of that ignored a simple human truth. People don’t care. They hardly care about their own loved ones, much less Saran Wrap.

So, advertising must make us care. It's really that simple.

Carl Ally used to say, "Advertising must comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable." 

Do you really think that's changed? Have humans changed more in the last 20 years than they did in the previous 200,000?

But making people care is hard work, and expensive and unpredictable.

However, that’s the cost of marketing. At least in a world inhabited by real people.

P.S. A short movie on chairs.


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