How the Stimulation Economy Is Affecting the Marketing World

And the Role Our New Addiction to Technology Is Playing a Part in the Problem

By Published on .

Steve Rubel
Steve Rubel

The American consumer has long been addicted to stimulation. We crave coffee, cigarettes, alcohol and sugar even though we know the downsides. Now add technology to this list. And like sugar, the more infotech we take in, the more it leaves us with insatiable unfilled cravings.

Even in a downturn, our appetite for all that burns batteries remains evergreen. According to a survey conducted by Retrevo, consumers plan to spend more on gadgets and electronics this holiday season than they did last year.

While no one has made a clear statistical link between our craving for shiny new techie things and marketing's tectonic shifts, there are signs that they are very much related.

Let's start with the almighty ad campaign.

Where once a powerful idea could fill a brand's coffers for months or even years, today a narrative must be regularly reinvented and retold to ensure that it continues to captivate. Real-time feedback in the form of tweets, clicks, searches and more makes it easier to gather the data we need, but it does not necessarily help us act on it.

Another victim of the stimulation economy? It just may be the 30-second spot. Nielsen reports that traditional TV remains more popular than ever. Time spent watching TV grew by two more hours per month in the first quarter of 2010.

Despite this trend, the 30-second spot is being devoured by 15-second ads spread out across shows. According to Nielsen, 15-second spots increased more than 70% in five years. Old Spice and Dos Equis are leading the way in running teasers that stitch together a narrative, rather than tell it in a single, longer ad. Finally there's the new-product pipeline.

The proliferation of technology is propelling us deeper into our interests while making it easy for us to ignore everything else.

Sports fans and fashionistas become more die-hard enthusiasts, while every day another polymath dies. This, arguably, is one reason why marketers are rapidly turning to brand extensions. According to Information Resources Inc., food and beverage brand extensions averaged one-year sales of $28 million in 2009 vs. entirely new brands, which recorded an average $15 million in revenues.

There is no doubt in my mind that Google and Facebook are slowly rewiring us to be even more attracted to a psychographic state we already identify with or at least aspire to attain. This changes buying behaviors.

While hard evidence remains elusive and anecdotal, there are signs that the companies that regularly innovate in social media seem to be more memorable.

When industry conversations turn to social, the same names keep popping up. These include Starbucks and Pepsi (disclosure: We work with both on the PR side), as well as Google and Ford. What they all share in common is a commitment to rapid innovation and iteration. This helps them break through the noise.

Simply put, marketers must innovate or die. That's not a new theme, of course, but our society's burgeoning addiction to technology stimuli will force them to more quickly iterate -- and to bail on what's not working.

Steve Rubel is senior VP-director of insights at Edelman Digital.
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