What Can Advertising Be, Post-Coronavirus?

Bob Deutsch

Until the Coronavirus emerged, most adults went to work to earn a living. Now, by civic mandate, we are told to stay home. Covid-19 brought peoples’ normal, everyday routines to a screeching halt. Hopefully, this unwanted pause will contribute something positive to our assessment of what was our normal? In that sense, we can ask,

· When this viral threat is corralled what will advertising be like?

One suggestion: advertising should shift from a focus on “consumers” to paying attention to what real people are like?

We all would be living more vital lives if advertising and marketing strategy were based on the realities of human life and not on artificial concepts and their numeric representation. “Consumers,” “segmentations” and “end users” are boxes too small to put people in.

Marketing likes to remove the “I” as this makes its work simpler. Alas, people are not wholly logical, linear, objective beings. The “I” is a convulsion of zigzags and contradictions. But if marketing could focus on the authenticity of the “I” it could help to vitalize the feeling people have about their lives and about life, itself — everyone could profit from that.

A good place to begin making business more human is to consider brand as human.

“Brand” has been with us since time began. Millennia before marketing used the term “branding,” the how, when, and why of people “attaching” to a person, product, or idea, has been nothing less than the engine of history. Emotional attachment and a personally-felt identification are why one product is preferred over another and why people lay down their lives for a cause. Marketers would do well to look at how the human attachment process operates from the point of view of “people,” rather than “consumers.”

Having a Rightful Business Strategy Requires Getting People Right

Particularly in this time of economic uncertainty — during and post-pandemic — marketers would do better if they would deploy methods to comprehend the illogical preferences, the innocent desires, the mess of assumptions, and the untested deductions, that each and every one of us lives by. This entails a shift in perspective from seeing people as rational, objective, linear thinkers who are armed with complete domain-relevant knowledge. People are not a physics problem. People are embodied thinkers — emotionally-based and symbolically-driven.

Attitude and usage studies, constructs such as the ‘purchase funnel’ as well as traditional surveys will no longer do. These tried-and-not-so-true methods of inquiry, and the models of human life they imply, catch only a very isolated top-of-mind impulse. That’s not good enough, especially in the complex world we live in today, where nothing is all of one piece, including us humans.

Return on Investment (ROI) v Return on Attachment (ROA)

To achieve a return on investment (ROI), marketers should define a new calculus: A Return On Attachment (ROA). Such a metric would entrain the emotional logic responsible for how the mind enfolds self-identity and product-identity into a single narrative. That is the force that wins sales and boosts profits. That is the force that is derived from understanding peoples’ experience of things, rather than the things themselves.

Branding is usually defined as the process by which a company or product name becomes synonymous with positive attributes. But this is mere commodity. The human mind is a maker of patterns, symbols, narratives, metaphor and mythologies. Human beings are wired to make meaning, not disembodied links. In making meaning, people do not paint by the numbers.

To earn a dollar and count on people’s loyalty, marketers should seek to understand peoples’ narratives of self. These stories virtually always display paradox, inconsistency and irony. These are not elicited by asking product-oriented, attribute-oriented, discussion-guide questions. Products have to fit into people’s lives; people’s lives don’t have to fit into products. Furthermore, ‘Math Men’ create analytics that eliminate or average-out everything that is human. Explanation can seem to be a numbers game; understanding never is.

Current measures of marketing effectiveness have little to do with cognition and the way the mind builds attachments to things based on how things are experienced. Expected utility is not an Einstein-ian equation ready to solve the way of the marketing universe. The cosmology of human cognition is more an elegant relativity than a Newtonian theorem.

Marketers must come to terms with how the minds of real people, living real lives, on the ground, in real time, actually operate — it must do this before its methods, models and tools can uncover the “theory of everything.” When business achieves this goal, businesses will be more successful and people will feel more connected to their own authenticity.

Connecting People To Their Authenticity

It has been said by some that the Coronavirus is nature’s way to fight back against man-made contamination of the environment. That planet intention no one can prove. But what the whole marketing enterprise can do during this face-covering interval of time is to unmask its false idols that assume people are two-dimensional stick-figures who blindly respond to hot-button messages.

People want more than products. People want more truth; more soul, more love and more of the feeling of being truly alive.

In this time of Coronavirus, life is filled with confusion created by the many conflicting feelings people are experiencing. These contradictions include being simultaneously wired and exhausted, and being happy to spend more time with spouse and children and feeling get-me-the–hell-out-of-here. This is real. This is normal. Such circumstances can be used to artfully frame products and services while at the same time reflecting back to people the real of their current existence, This kind of advertising would be compelling in its rendering — perhaps even in a comedic way — of the reality people are now living. Whitewashed homogenization makes people tune out. Contradictions, imperfections and human detail are what make people truly connect.

So, after this attack on our lungs is over, can advertising — and all of us — take a deep breath to consider not simply defaulting back to what was business-as-usual before 2020? Let’s hope so.

Stands with both feet in Neuroscientist, Anthropology and Business

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