So, Six Seconds is the Secret, Huh?

First published February 13, 2014 in Mediapost’s Search Insider

oreo-superbowl-blackout-adApparently, the new official time limit for customer engagement is 6 seconds, according to a recent post on Real Time Marketing. How did we come up with 6? Well, in the world of social media engagement it seemed like a good number and no one has called bull shit on it yet, so 6 it is

Marketers love to talk about time – just in time, real time, right time. At the root of all this “time talk” is the realization that customers really don’t have any time for us, so we have to somehow jam our messages into the tiny little cracks that may appear in the wall of willful ignorance they carefully build against marketing. The marketer’s goal is to erode their defenses by looking for any weakness that may appear.

Look at the supposed poster child for Real Time Marketing – the Oreo coup staged during the black out in the 2013 Super Bowl. Because the messaging was surprising and clever, and because, let’s face it, we weren’t doing much of anything else anyway, Oreo managed to gain a foothold in our collective consciousness for a few precious seconds. So, marketers being marketers, we all stumbled over ourselves to proclaim a new channel and launch a series of new micro-attacks on consumers. That’s where the 6 seconds came from. Apparently, that’s the secret to storming the walls. Five seconds and you’re golden. Seven seconds and you’re dead.

Oreo surprised us, and it wasn’t because the message was 6 seconds long. It was because we weren’t expecting a highly relevant, highly timely message. Humans are built to respond to things that don’t fit within our expected patterns. The whole approach of marketing is to constantly blanket us with untimely, irrelevant messages. Marketers, to be fair, try to deliver the right message at the right time to the right person, but it’s really hard to do that. So, we overcompensate by delivering lots of messages all the time to everyone, hoping to get lucky. Not to take anything away from the cleverness and nimbleness of the Oreo campaign, but they got lucky. We were surprised and we let our defenses down long enough to be amused and entertained. Real time marketing wasn’t a brilliant new channel; it was a shot in the dark – literally.

And there’s no six-second gold standard of engagement. If you can deliver the right message at the right time to the right person, you can spend hours talking to your prospective customer.  It’s only when you’re trying to interrupt someone with something irrelevant that you have to hopefully shoehorn it into their consciousness. Think of it like a Maslow’s hierarchy of advertising effectiveness.  At it’s best advertising should be useful. This sits at the top of the pyramid. After usefulness comes relevance – even if I don’t find the ad useful to me right now, at least you’re talking to the right person. After relevance comes entertainment – I’ll willingly give you a few seconds of my time if I find your message amusing or emotionally engaging.  I may not buy, but I’ll spend some time with you. After entertainment comes the category the majority of advertising falls into – a total waste of my time.  Not useful, irrelevant, not emotionally engaging. And making an ad that falls into this category 5 seconds long, no matter what channel it’s delivered through, won’t change that. You may fool me once, but next time, I’m still going to ignore you.

There was something important happening during the Oreo campaign at the 2013 Super Bowl, but it had nothing to do with some new magic formula, some recently discovered loophole in our cognitive defenses. It was a sign of what may, hopefully, emerge as trend in advertising – nimble, responsive marketing that establishes a true feedback loop with prospects. What may have happened when the lights went out in New Orleans is that we may have found a new, very potent way to make sense of our market and establish a truly interactive, responsive dialogue with them. If this is the case, we may have just found a way climb a rung or two on the Advertising Effectiveness Hierarchy.

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