Quantum Advertising

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Just a hundred years ago, physics was logical. Large objects behaved in entirely predictable ways and everything worked according to laws set out by Newton and Einstein. Then physicists noticed what was happening in the subatomic world and all of that changed.

In advertising, we have also recently moved from a Newtonian world to a Quantum one; there are no large audiences moving from TV show to TV show anymore. They have fragmented into tiny particle consumers and they're also behaving in very random ways. To explain the seemingly erratic behavior of particles at the subatomic level, the mathematician Erwin Schrodinger argued that a particle could in fact be in two states at the same time. He illustrated this with his now famous cat which, when locked in a safe, would be exposed to hydrocyanic acid that would kill it. According to Schrodinger, until you open the door and see what actually happened, the cat is both dead and alive-it is in two states at the same time. It's a theory that helps explain how light can sometimes behave like a wave and sometimes like a particle. (It's not all theory either; this thinking led to the development of transistors). It also suggests that until you have identified a particle's position, it could be anywhere, and therefore might very possibly be everywhere. Schrodinger dubbed this the superposition.

Maybe it's time for brands to eschew being in just one position, too. To illustrate we'll use not a cat but a car. For years, BMW has taken one position and driven it into the public psyche-they are the ultimate driving machine. In order to grow their customer base, they've built a model for every part of a successful life and they've positioned every single model as the driver's alternative-even when they brought out an SUV. The problem is they now have nowhere else to go. Their success at positioning all their vehicles to attract the driving enthusiast has resulted in repelling people who don't think of themselves that way. These people look for other qualities in a luxury car: things like safety, comfort and reliability. Now, if BMWs weren't safe, comfortable and reliable, we could move on. But they are. And by not mentioning it, BMW misses out on a massive market. In the traditional advertising world, BMW would be in a quandary-should they reposition the brand away from pure driving pleasure and risk alienating the people who buy their cars year in, year out? Or do they stick to the straight and narrow and ignore what could make them the most popular automaker on the planet?

In the world of quantum advertising, BMW can do both. Like Schrodinger's cat, they can be in two states at the same time. Or four. Or 16. This is where audience fragmentation is actually an asset (and Newtonian-inclined planners get nervous). By adopting the superposition, BMW can create campaigns that appeal to the safety conscious family (say, on American Idol) and campaigns that appeal to driving enthusiasts (say, on American Chopper). They may not reach 80 million people, but they will reach a few million with a message the audience is more inclined to hear.

Now, if you're that Newtonian planner, you're probably asking yourself what if a consumer is in two states at the same time (thanks to TiVo) and watches both shows? Doesn't that make BMW seem rather confused or schizophrenic? The answer is, it doesn't matter. Quantum advertising is about being single-minded in multiple positions, not holding many opinions in one communication.

Of course, if you happen to be BMW's brand manager, you're probably busy calculating the expense of making multiple campaigns. Again, in another time and another place, this would be costly. But we're in a quantum world. Digital photography, DV, even electronic proofs, make for massive savings. In fact, the only things that haven't dramatically changed in the quantum world are the creative department and the client's marketing department. A TV ad shouldn't cost more to make than a TV show, and a print ad shouldn't take longer to produce than a newspaper. When you stop worrying and learn to love the fragmented audience, what you get is an explosion of opportunity.

Guy Barnett is Head of Creative & Invoicing, and Paul Parton is Head of Planning & Furniture at New York's The Brooklyn Brothers.

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