Lots of languages have words for longing, some of which defy definition and translation. In Welsh, it’s ‘hiraeth’. In Portuguese, it’s ‘saudade’. In Anglo Saxon it’s ‘seledreorig’.
I think seledreorig is one of the better ones. Translated it means ‘sad for the lack of a hall’, evoking the grimness of time spent outdoors in the cold winter landscape of Eastern England in the days before Goretex, down sleeping bags and decent tents.
To our cost, we’ve lost that same (and I think profoundly important) sense of longing these days.
Last night, in search of diversion, I browsed Amazon Prime for a film to watch (I know, it’s not exactly scavenging for food in the bitter cold of a mediaeval East Anglian winter, but bear with me…), but discovered that I’d seen everything I really felt like seeing. Nothing that I hadn’t seen felt appealing. This is Amazon with its catalogue of tens of thousands of films and TV shows. Nothing?
Back in the pre-VCR epoch, this wasn’t the case. You’d see something on TV or miss it – and your life was ruled by the TV schedule. A cliffhanger in a series played heavily on the psyche. We’d count the minutes until the next episode. There was a craft to the cliffhanger too. I can still remember the voiceover man every week saying “don’t miss the next exciting episode of Lost in Space.”
I can still remember the misery of missing an episode of Catweazle.
Satedness infects our lives today. We have what we want more or less when we want it. We are diners in an all-you-can-eat entertainment buffet.
Of course, satedness can apply in other contexts too. Interest free credit is one example. In Australia, where I grew up, we had a system called ‘lay-by’. You asked the shop to put aside the item you wanted – and you wouldn’t get it until you’d paid it off in instalments. When you got it, I’d contend, you were gladder for it.
The same applies to discovery. We’d have to hunt. Now we can Google. Challenge Anneka and Treasure Hunt, pub quizzes and plot twists, are all solved with a few keyboard taps and a click.
It is harder to miss people when we can text or snapchat or Facebook message or Skype or WhatsApp them. If we head out to see people we can refine our plans by the second. We’re no longer ruled by the fixed line phone.
If we want a book we can get it. If we want a song it’s a click away.
Yes, all these things are great, but they’re the antidote to longing.
That valuable feeling of waiting for things is something we’ve largely lost – and that is having profound effects on the effectiveness of promotion.
Consumers can now filter out the noise and intrusion. They reach for what they want and more often than not it is there.
Longing serves a powerful purpose for marketeers. Imagine if your PR and brand communications were crafted in a way that made your customers want to hear more. Brands need to think more than ever about what they’re saying and whether it is truly interesting and captivating. You can have the most sophisticated methods of delivery for your message at your fingertips, but if what you’re saying is not interesting or compelling, you’re wasting your time. The maths will flatter the effort – click throughs, etc – but longing is not a measurable, mathematical concept.
David Ogilvy’s litmus test for an outstanding idea is apposite here.
Does what you are saying meet the test? Are you parcelling out communication that your customers will crave or long for?
Samuel Johnson’s novel, ‘The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abyssinia’, despite being written centuries ago, is a perfect evocation of our modern malaise. It describes the life of a king who lives in a perfect kingdom in which his every need is met. Because his life lacks misery, he has no frame of reference for his joy, and his life, in turn, becomes joyless.
The art of communication these days must be to bring some unexpected joy into your customers’ lives, whatever you’re selling.
Back in the 1950s, 60s and 70s, stability in the world was dependent in the view of many leaders on the doctrine of mutually assured destruction. It fuelled the arms race. A similar phenomenon, though clearly not predicated on the survival of humanity, is happening in advertising, with the rise of adblockers. The technology is impeding the effectiveness of bland wallpaper advertising that chases us around the world wide web. Depending on the choices made by advertisers, this potentially creates existential crises for brands.
Our experience tells us that the best way to tackle this is based on a simple idea:
Make your customers want to hear from you.
Give them something to think about and maybe share with friends, colleagues and family.
Think of the grander purpose of marketing: to change perceptions of your brand.
Think about how to tell a truly interesting and compelling story that people will seek out rather than block.
Our litmus test, once we’ve applied Ogilvy’s, is to see whether people want to hear more. Because we strive to make our work truly interesting we are often asked by journalists ‘what’s next?’ and we’ve been entrusted by many of the world’s biggest and most ambitious brands to tell their stories.
Making sure that your promotional activity has value in its own right is, in my view, the answer. It isn’t an ad or a piece of direct marketing or a video or an announcement. It is a product with an intrinsic value – and something that your audience will want to collect.
In order to cut through our sated lives, brands need to communicate in a way that makes their customers long for more. The state secret to achieving this is……[to be continued].