When you have fireworks like this who needs bonfires. Image courtesy of Fernando Castaneda.

In recent years the business of marketing has been assailed by a litany of new buzzwords and phrases that often gain extraordinary momentary popularity and spawn a slew of new job titles and agency offerings. However, increasingly this ‘new marketing’ jargon and the ideas behind it have been found wanting. Especially as we have begun to wake up from the decade long delusion that people want to be friends with our brands and businesses. Some exceptional brands enjoy some exceptional relationships with people but by and large the vast majority of the business that we do is with people that have far better things to think about than ‘engage’, ‘participate’ or join in ‘conversations’ with brands – they have actual human beings for that.

One of the more tedious mantras that has penetrated the mainstream of the marketing community is the exhausting sounding concept of ‘always on’. While it has rapidly found considerable popularity it seems little more than a crude legitimisation for brands and their agencies to pollute the real and virtual timelines of normal people with utter drivel. Let’s face it no one wants any one to be ‘always on’, we even seek some solace form our partners and children occasionally.

That is not to say that businesses shouldn’t be ‘always available’ so that when I need something from them – help in resolving an issue, a sounding board for a complaint or easy access to further products and services – I can get results quickly. But this is not really what is meant by ‘always on’ marketing. Indeed many of the practitioners of this deluge of cultural sewage are the very people that make it almost impossible to locate a customer service phone number on their website.

To be fair this all started out as a reasonable observation that constrained budgets meant brands could no longer be ‘on air’ for as long as they used to be and that they needed ways to maintain a ‘conversation’ in between advertising bursts. This is where the original fireworks and bonfires analogy came, the fireworks being ad campaigns and the bonfires being the ongoing ‘conversation’ that would ensure a brands presence in people’s lives when they are off air. Digital and social were a boon to this approach as theoretically they provided a low cost and relatively easy way for a brand to be ‘always on’, if not on the telly then in the timeline..

The problem with all of this, overlooking for the moment that normal people don’t really want brands to be in their faces constantly, is that good digital and good social is neither cheap not easy. And when it is, it is precisely the inane drivel that drives people insane, something I call it the cup cake update ‘we love lemon cupcakes, what cupcake flavour do you like?’ The real truth is that while we were promised bonfires instead of fireworks, what we got was a three bar electric fire.

And at the heart of this is that ‘always on’, like so many things in the firmament of new marketing, is based on entirely false premise. The premise being that a brand needs to be always on to achieve its commercial objectives when the truth is what a brand really needs is to be always in mind. That is what great products, great services and great advertising do brilliantly – they ensure that brands are always at the front of mind, not because of the recency of a brand experience but because of the longevity of a great brand experience.

Great ads or campaigns are like the sustain peddle on a grand piano or the feedback between amp and guitar at the end of a gig – they endure long after the original note is played. This not only maximises the effectiveness of the marketing budget but it is also far more efficient than spending inordinate amounts of money keeping the a few sad little social bonfires burning constantly.

So let’s hear no more about ‘always on’ marketing but instead devote ourselves to creating strategies, initiatives, services and powerful creative executions that ensure our brands are always in mind. To torture the metaphor a bit, the sort of fireworks that mean the opening ceremony of the London Olympics are still in all our minds a year on.

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