For as long as there has been advertising, people have been telling us it is dead. Television is dead. Print is dead. The campaign is dead. One can’t help but think that moments after the first Neanderthal scribbled on the wall of cave in central France, someone behind him was muttering that cave painting was dead.
Jeff Rosenblum and Jordan Berg’s insight into what is killing, or maybe already has killed, advertising is the existence of “friction”- those rough patches that make the smooth transfer of lucre difficult. And they point specifically to two kinds of friction – Macro and Micro. Macro friction is that which makes it harder for customers to use your category; micro friction is that which makes it harder for them to use your brand. Or, as they explain:
Let’s look at Uber, since it’s a brand we all use and understand. The macro friction is that millions of people need a more convenient tool for short-range travel. So they created a safe, easy, reliable way for people to get a ride. Both drivers and riders simply need to use a straightforward mobile app. That’s what removes macro friction. They elevated the entire category.
Yet, it’s the micro friction aspects of the experience that are equally powerful. It only requires one click to provide your home address or share your music playlist with the driver. You never need to take out your wallet to pay, and you don’t need to calculate the tip.
Now with this in mind, you might think that Rosenblum and Berg see friction all over advertising. People hate advertising, so there’s your “category-wide friction”. And it interrupts what they’re doing, so there’s the micro, user-experience, friction, right? Or maybe the micro friction is that ads don’t actually drive sales, which is what they’re supposed to do. But either way, friction, friction, friction, right?
Well, no, because they don’t really talk about friction in advertising. They aim a bit higher, thinking about what happens to advertising if you remove these frictions from the relationships between brands and consumers.
And where they net out is that that fundamentally changes advertising.
Human beings are not patient. They don’t need to be. There are too many new start-ups that focus on removing friction through digital tools. There are too many competitors in any category. Removing macro and micro friction is not only about creating a passion brand, it is critical for survival.
Customers have no empathy for your brand. They only have heightened expectations.
Which leads them to believe that:
.. consumers want more than products now. They want experiences. Not arbitrary experiences. Not simply fun or entertaining experiences. They want experiences that move their lives forward, one small step at a time.
Therefore advertising – or whatever we’re going to call what we do in the future – is about creating those experiences that move their lives forward. Like Patagonia does. Like The North Face does.
And maybe. Except we think they miss a much larger opportunity.
We believe that the really revolutionary thing Rosenblum and Berg are pointing at is this: people’s lives do not center around the products we sell them. Perhaps they did once, but not now. People’s lives center around, well, their lives. Their experiences, their families, their passions. These are the things people want to focus on. Not motor oil. Not toothpaste. Not even sneakers, or beer or cars, no matter how much we as advertisers or brand managers want them to.
And the brands that work are not those that try to con us that this beer is what I should organize my life around. But instead, the beer that says “you organize your life around something else. I will help you facilitate that. And perhaps by doing so, you will appreciate my help in helping you achieve that goal, and a relationship can be born.”
And why this is important is because it resolves a thing that has bothered us about what is loosely described as “cause-based” or “value-driven” or “mission-driven” marketing. These are efforts that believe that people will buy your product because it is, in the glass half-full parlance, more responsible than another product, and in the glass half-empty argot, simply more woke.
These companies believe “people will buy us because we care as much about global warming/equal rights/whatever as they do. They will believe that we are like them because of this.” But we think that Rosenblum and Berg have helped us see why that’s a fundamentally flawed concept. We will not buy a beer because we believe it is just as ethical as we are because, really, we don’t believe that’s even remotely possibly true. We’re not that naïve, or trusting anymore, and maybe we never were. So to pretend that we will is not simply a waste of time, it’s actually damaging because it is insulting.
But we will buy a beer that helps us accomplish the things in life we want to accomplish. And if one of those things is ending global warming, or bringing about equal rights or whatever, then perhaps we are interested. If a company says “you cannot donate a million dollars to help people these people. But we know that you would if you could. We can, because we’re a huge multinational. So spend a few dollars on our product and we will help you achieve that goal.”
Maybe that sounds like only a nuance. But we don’t think so. Humans are busy. That’s why they use brands. But brands can have many uses. Thinking this way would betoken an honesty in relationships between brands and humans that would be refreshing if not actually revolutionary. Rosenblum and Berg have opened the door to this for us whether they meant to or not. It’s up to us to decide to walk through it.