This article was originally published with The Manila Times on January 17, 2019.
Whether you’re selling a product, campaigning for a politician or waging a war against city hall, you’re talking about news, and news have lifespans. The marketer wants his products flying off the shelf, the lobbyist wants to keep his issues or problems foremost in thought; we’re all after awareness, but consistent awareness needs feeding. Causes need to be nourished if you intend to keep them top-of-mind, or, at the very least, alive. People in the business of convincing other people, whether the convincing is covert or aboveboard, whether it’s commissioned media, digital or old media, we all bemoan the short attention span of the audience. Sometimes, we may already be screaming our heads off, standing on our soapboxes, spending so much money, but it feels like we are troubling a deaf audience with bootless cries. The public has a one-track mind, their attention can be waylaid, misdirected by other issues.
Of course there are times we wish for the news to die quicker: People who are in the news for the wrong reasons are glad for other messages: the triumph of Tiger Woods shoved the last accuser of Brett Kavanaugh out of the picture, out of the diminutive box that is the public’s mind.
The news of a brewing coup d’état against Duterte, whether real or imagined, gained hardly a peep. No matter how shrill you already are, neck veins engorged, if something comes up, you, or what you are selling, is pushed aside. Product launches fall flat; major accomplishments pass like quiet ships in the night.
The distraction may be helped along or heaven sent: something comes up and no one notices or remembers anything else in the news. Soon enough, a large hullabaloo dissipates, disappears; the partylist representative who berated an airport security checker — what was his name again? The problem has vanished; he is on air now; his image sufficiently rehabilitated.
The news of the bully of Ateneo was on its out of our consciousness until the parents resurrected it with badly-writ apologies.
The business of perception management includes an understanding of this limitation of the mind. In its arsenal is the use of foils and distractions. This is not about a forgiving nature of people.
This is a tangible and measurable limitation of the mind and of media; this is the nature of the beast. We must understand the environment, we must feel the walls of the mind of the customer from the inside, and we must know the filters that restrict comprehension, and we must also know what promotes growth and circulation.
Today, Leila de Lima (“Leila who?”) occupies little space in that diminutive box, if at all.
Facebook provides us a great analogy for the lifespan of news.
Sometimes you’re seeing something too often, but you missed a relative’s obituary or a friend’s post about a reunion.
Everybody but everybody is competing for the precious real estate that is your newsfeed. Your friends and family, their friends, the public, the news organizations you subscribe to, all the pages and groups you have “liked” and joined, the jokes and the videos, all try to dislodge others from the limited space of your feed.
That newsfeed is like the public mind. Some news are boosted, sponsored and take up more space in the mind, and others are forgotten, scrolled past quickly or didn’t get to squeeze themselves into that precious real estate that is the face of your phone. And because news is 24/7 and come from all corners of the globe, pouring into your phone, that newsfeed continues to scroll down even in your sleep.
How does one keep a product top-of-mind, how does one care for it, keep it burning?
The old way to communicate was to send a message and to send it periodically. Integrated marketing communications includes the receiver of a message in the scheme of things. You look for feedback from the receiver and work on it, cultivate it. It is no longer a one-way street: while you may be the instigator, a conversation must be had, and you must listen (If you prefer the subject not be aired or talked about, you do not respond to the receiver).
Important caveat: The receiver can influence the shape of the news; once it is out there, we lose total control.
The public began spoofing the RiteMED jingle, giving new meaning to its words. “May RiteMED ba nito?” was used to ask if there were cheaper versions of whatever they were buying. When they found the iPhone expensive, when they were shocked at the cost of a ticket to a One Direction concert, they kidded, “may RiteMED ba nito?”
“Huwag mahihiyang magtanong” became advice to the lovelorn.
The recipient of our message responded, and we irrigated the phenomenon. We had a contest for the best parody of the jingle.
Messages have form and feel; they are physical, they occupy space in the mind of the customer. The lifespan of messages can be augmented or truncated, but what is required is a mindfulness in their care and maintenance, and a respect for the receiver. Now, more than ever, the target audience, the reader, listener or viewer must be heard.
The author is chairman of Estima, an ad agency dedicated to helping local industrialists and causes, and co-founder of Caucus, Inc., a multi-discipline consultancy firm. He can be reached through email@example.com.