Disruption is Dead. Long Live Disruption!

For decades, the advertising industry has talked about disruption as a way of getting the attention of the consumer. Disruption, in the sense of breaking into people’s lives and frame of mind, almost rocking them out of their day, delivering a punchy message, and expecting that message to be understood and liked – because it was “disruptive”, is now dead.

People don’t want to be disrupted, and they are more likely to “disrupt” themselves while watching TV, being on the internet, reading newspapers etc. They disrupt themselves with digital devices that take their attention to a “half state”, meaning they are halfway paying attention to what they are doing, and halfway paying attention to their devices. So how can marketing break through that?

Let’s be realistic, it can’t. At least marketing in its traditional form cannot change anything in the new reality we are living in. And the so-called disruption does nothing to win the attention of the audience. That’s why we need a new form of disruption. A disruption that send waves through the entire marketing community. A disruption that changes the way advertisers speak, the way ad agencies think and the way consumers interact with brands. The advertising industry is pretty good at pointing to other industries that have seen disruption and say to their clients “See, this disruption will come your way”. Funny, because advertising agencies do their business pretty much the same way they have since the days of Mad Men.

So what does this new disruption look like? How will we change the framework for communication in a way that makes a difference to the consumers? I mean, the consumers have been mistreated for decades by brands pushing messages down their throats. They have become uncomfortable with the whole idea of marketing communications. We, as advertisers and agencies, have turned them into cynics and into deflectors – they hardly notice our message, and when they do, they feel disconnected and empty. And the reality is, that if we continue down this path of the old marketing, we will soon lose out to other, more adaptive communicators. And they won’t be “brands” or “advertisers”, they will be connectors and enablers.

The first thing we have to do to change the marketing paradigm, is to acknowledge that digital is the primary source of information and connections. It’s not the only one, but for most people, digital devices are where they connect with each other, with brands, with entertainment, with businesses, and with authorities. This has created a culture of digital. A culture that is here to stay, and that (mostly) improves people’s lives. Clinging on to old ideas will not work in this framework. So we have to re-look at how marketing departments and agencies organise themselves. We have to look at how we see technology and communication converge, into a unified source of information, connections and experiences. It’s happening right before our eyes, but we have become complacent, and seem to think that “since traditional advertising has worked in the past, it will continue to work”. And yes, people still watch TV, they still listen to radio, they still read newspapers. But they do it differently than they used to, and linear TV will die, as will linear radio, as will newspapers. But not this year, and not in the foreseeable future. But that doesn’t mean change isn’t happening right now. Unfortunately, most advertisers aren’t looking for change. Status quo is much to comfortable.

So let’s be visionary and pragmatic at the same time. We can build a more profitable and creative future, without turning people away from brands. Let’s acknowledge that change is happening right before our eyes. Let’s push those changes in a way that gives the consumers a sense of connection and belonging – in a real way. Let’s drop the fake and flashy, and let’s be authentic and relevant. Let the audiences feel that they are in charge, and let us show them ways to use digital to truly change their interaction with brands. All it takes is will to disrupt. “Free your mind, and the rest will follow.”

Erik Ingvoldstad is the Founder & CEO of Acoustic.
Follow Erik on Twitter @ingvoldSTAR, follow Acoustic at @AcousticGroupSG
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[Main photo by 5chw4r7z, under CC]