In his novel “Pattern Recognition,” William Gibson creates protagonist Cayce Pollard, a professional “coolhunter” who suffers extreme psychological allergic reactions to well-known brands and logos. In essence, Cayce is capable of seeing the latest trends before they happen but has become so sensitized to the art and science of advertising and branding that she can’t stomach the proliferation of logos (her strongest reaction is to Bibendum, the Michelin Man). In the modern world she has to go out of her way to avoid the marketing we work to place everywhere.
Shepard Fairey, creator of Obey Giant, describes his campaign as an “experiment in phenomenology.” Although you may not be familiar with the campaign, you’ve most likely seen the sticker with the picture of Andre the Giant and the word “obey” somewhere in your travels. Fairey has subverted the ubiquity of advertising and branding, creating a campaign with no product to sell and no cause to promote. Instead, it simply exists to call attention to the act of recognizing the world around us and the messages delivered.
Gibson and Fairey tap into the dark side of our marketing-driven culture and call our attention to the dangers that lurk within. As marketers, we often fall into the trap of “more is better.” If we can show the logo 20 times, why not 100 times? If we can get customers to add our banner to their blogs, why not make the logo on the banner just a bit bigger?
Marketers are trained to believe in the power of repetition, exposure, and constant brand reinforcement. The Web allows us to replicate our message infinitely and to ensure we lead customers through a highly planned and tested brand experience. If on- and offline brands are out of alignment, we see immediate impact on customer behavior. Consider Apple’s on- and offline stores. Why is the physical store so much better at portraying the brand than the online version? Could Apple do a better job, or is this a weakness for one of its competitors to exploit?
Modern online marketing allows us to plan, measure, adjust, and optimize in near real time, 24-7. We can make our own brand nearly ubiquitous if we invest enough time and effort. But do any of the data tell us when we’ve gone too far? Do we know at which point we might be causing an “allergic” reaction to our messages in our target customers?
Here are a few things to consider when thinking about this problem:
Online marketing has given us an amazing set of tools and the ability to test everything. The trick for the good marketer is being sure to define “everything” as everything.
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