When I was a teenage boy, I’d sometimes find porn in hedges.
No one I’ve said this to recently really believes me. They think I’m just trotting out some well-worn urban myth.
But the truth is we actually did used to find porn in hedges: torn fragments of someone else’s ‘Razzle’ or ‘Club’ (there’s a whole separate piece to write on the hierarchy of brands in pre-internet porn – as complex and class-based as that of supermarkets).
And these vulgar scraps of paper were so precious.
Lest we forget: before the internet, most teenage boys didn’t get to see very many naked women. If you were younger than 16, you couldn’t buy (or even reach) the top-shelf magazines. And so the relative scarcity drove up value; the ripped photos assumed a currency all of their own.
Cecil Rhodes understood the power of scarcity. The founder of De Beers knew that oversupply would drive down prices, so he formed an agreement with the London-based Diamond Syndicate to ensure that output and prices were regulated. Smart.
Today, we don’t see much scarcity. Indeed, we live in an age of ubiquity. Everything is available, everywhere, all the time. Our approach as consumers is one of ‘See It/Want It/Get It’. And as marketers, we have fed this beast.
To be fair, it’s an approach that, historically speaking, and at least when measured by sales, has worked. People are buying more things than they ever have before. As a generation, we have gorged ourselves on instaneity; getting as much as we can as quickly as we can; like kids in a sweet shop.
But, as they grow up, every kid learns that too many sweets make you feel sick. That sometimes you enjoy a sweet more if you only have one or two. That sometimes it’s nice to… wait.
I have a theory that consumers might just be coming to same conclusion. That we might be ‘growing up’ a bit. That we’re weary of the ‘all-you-can-eat’ lives we’ve created for ourselves. That we’re ready for some slow intrigue; and the delicious drip-feed of delayed gratification.
Look at the success of the nuanced character development of a Mad Men, or Breaking Bad. Or how people suddenly just don’t seem to be ‘binge-watching’ now like they were a year or two ago.
My theory is entirely unscientific, and totally untested. Tell me if you think I’ve got it wrong.
But just imagine for a second that I might be right.
What rich, fertile territory we’d have as marketers! Rather than trying to jam a big, dumb ‘all-you-can-eat’ message into one 30 second TV spot, we could be sponsoring the reintroduction of the serialisation of the novel. Or using a weekly comic strip as part of a native advertising campaign. Or rediscovering how to integrate our products into the arc of a soap opera narrative.
It’s not like we haven’t done it before – the Gold Blend couple had 80s audiences positively glued to their screens, and the brand on the front pages of the papers.
And the explosion in new channels gives us so many exciting possibilities.
I can hardly wait.
– this piece first published by The Marketing Society