“I’m just so busy!” becomes the new social status signal.

In an era of almost constant “disruption” both socially and politically, it’s always interesting to hear the perspectives of people who devote their energies to thinking about the “larger implications.”

Author and MarComm über-thought leader Gord Hotchkiss is one of those individuals whose writings about the intersection of technology and human behavior are invariably interesting and thought-provoking.

His latest theory is no exception.

In a recent column published in MediaPost, Hotchkiss posits that the social status hierarchy of people may be moving away from “conspicuous consumption” and more towards the notion of “time” as the status symbol.

Hotchkiss writes:

“‘More stuff’ has been how we’ve determined social status for hundreds of years. In sociology, it’s called conspicuous consumption — a term coined by sociologist Thorstein Veblen.  It’s a signaling strategy that evolved in humans over our recorded history. 

 The more stuff we had — and the less we had to do to get that stuff — the more status we had. Just over 100 years ago, Veblen called those who significantly fulfilled these criteria the Leisure Class.”

Gord Hotchkiss

Looking at how social dynamics and social status are playing out today — at least in North America — Hotchkiss paints picture that is quite different from before:

“A recent study seems to indicate that we now associate ‘busy-ness’ with status. Here, it’s time, not stuff, that is the scarce commodity.  Social status signaling is more apt to involve complaining about how we never go on a vacation than about our ‘summer on the continent.'”

Interestingly, the very same research methodology that uncovered this set of attitudes in the United States was conducted in Italy as well. And there, the findings were exactly the opposite.

Perhaps it shouldn’t surprise us that in Italy, every employee is entitled to at least 32 days of PTO per year, whereas in the United States the minimum number of legally required paid holidays is … zero.

Looked at from another perspective, perhaps today’s social status indicators in North America are merely the Protestant Work Ethic in action, but updated to the 21st century.

Either way, the residents of Italy probably see it as a heck of a way to live …

The ad blocking phenomenon: It’s all about human nature.

noadThe rapid rise in consumer adoption of ad blocking software is threatening the traditional advertising model for publishers. For some, it seems like a topsy-turvy world where none of the old assumptions or the old rules apply.

But author and MarComm über-thought leader Gord Hotchkiss reminds us that the consumer behaviors we are witnesses are as old as the hills.

In a recent MediaPost column titled “Why Our Brains Are Blocking Ads,” Hotchkiss points out that the environment for online ads is vastly different from the environment where traditional advertising flourished for decades – primarily in magazines, newspapers and television.

Gord Hotchkiss
Gord Hotchkiss

He notes that in the past, the majority of people’s interaction with advertising was done while our brains were in “idling” mode – meaning that they had no specific task at hand. Instead, people were looking for something to capture their attention within a TV program, a newspaper or magazine article.

Hotchkiss contends that in such an environment, the brain is in an “accepting” state and thus is more open to advertising messages:

“We were looking for something interesting, we were primed to be in a positive frame of mind, and our brains could easily handle the contextual switches required to consider an ad and its message.”

Contrast this to the delivery of most digital advertising in today’s world, which is happening when people are in more of a “foraging” mode – involved in a task to find information and answers with our attention focused on that task.

In such an environment, advertising isn’t only a distraction; often, it’s a source of frustration. As Hotchkiss notes:

“The reason we’re blocking [digital] ads is that in the context those ads are being delivered, irrelevant ads are – quite literally – painful. Even relevant ads have a very high threshold to get over.”

Hotchkiss concludes that the rapid rise of ad blocking adoption isn’t about the technology per se.  It has to do with the hardwiring of our brains.  New technologies haven’t caused fundamental changes in human behavior – they’ve simply enabled new behaviors that weren’t an option before.

adbAs is becoming increasingly obvious, the implications for the advertising business are huge:  Ad blocking software is projected to lower digital ad revenues by more than $40 billion in 2016 alone, according to estimates by digital data research firm eMarketer.

Looking back on it, actually it seems like it was all so inevitable.

The “Millennial Effect” – and how it’s affecting the Boomer Generation.

bm

In the world of marketing communications, it seems that confluence is in the air. This point was underscored recently by Eric Trow, a MediaPost columnist who is also vice present of strategic services at Pittsburgh, PA-based marketing communications firm Gatesman+Dave.

Trow’s main point is this:  Despite the big differences that marketers have traditionally noted between members of the Boomer Generation and their younger Millennial counterparts, today the two groups are becoming more similar than they are different.

In particular, Boomers are beginning to act more like Millennials.

Trow identifies a set of fundamental trending characteristics that underscore his belief:

  • Boomers increasingly want instant gratification – and related to that, they want convenience as well.
  • Boomers are embracing technology more every day, including being nearly as dependent on mobile devices as their younger counterparts.
  • Boomers connect online – with adults over the age of 65 now driving social media growth more than any other generation at the moment.
  • Boomers want control – and to that end, they do their research as well.
  • Boomers want to live healthier – with levels of interest in natural, healthy and environmentally responsible products rivaling those of younger age groups.
  • Boomers are more questioning of traditional authority – and not just because of the 2016 U.S. presidential election race, either.

Putting it all together, Trow concludes that he and many other Boomers could, in practice, be classified more accurately as “middle-aged Millennials.”

Speaking as someone who falls inside the Boomer generation age range, I concede many of Trow’s points.

But how about you?  Do they ring true to you as well?

Momentous milestone? U.S. advertising dips below 1% of GDP for the first time in living memory.

sdThe advertising industry has often been characterized as “boring.”  This 2014 analytical article from Bloomberg encapsulates the argument pretty succinctly.

Still, the “lay of the land” in the late 2000s and early 2010s represents a bit of a changeup from the previous decades of predictability.

During the period beginning the late 2000s when the “advertising recession” hit in an even bigger way than the overall U.S. economic recession, I’ve heard various industry insiders posit that there was more than merely a retrenchment happening due to overall economic conditions.

Beyond that, it was suggested that a migration was happening away from traditional advertising methods to more measurable ones.

Now we have more than just hunches to go on — and the results appear to be aligning with those suspicions.

The new evidence comes in the form of statistics released this week and reported on by MediaPost.

According to an analysis of ad spending trends published by Sanford Bernstein Research and Magna Global, for the first time in modern history U.S. advertising industry revenues have dropped below 1% of total U.S. Gross Domestic Product.

During the period 1999 to 2010, total advertising averaged 1.25% of GDP, but since then the percentage has stagnated or fallen. The 2014 total advertising estimate of $165 billion is 0.95% of GDP.  (The Bernstein/Magna research covers U.S. advertising revenues up through the year 2014.)

tbThe decline in advertising’s share of GDP is primarily due to the diminishing importance of two key traditional media categories: broadcast TV and cable TV.

Broadcast TV advertising’s annual revenue growth averaged around 3% per year between 1990 and 2010.  Since 2011, it’s been flat.

Cable TV has done somewhat better – but even there what had been around 12% growth per year has slowed to just a ~3% annual increase.

With such big baseline numbers for broadcast and cable TV, the behavior of these two broadcast categories have been key drivers of the advertising sector’s overall performance.

But we mustn’t forget another category that’s been performing pretty miserably of late: newspaper advertising.  It’s experienced a ~10% decline on a compound annual basis from 2010 to 2014.

That decline is even steeper than earlier projections had suggested.

Todd Juenger, a vice president and senior analyst at Sanford Bernstein, made a key takeaway observation about the newly published figures, noting:

“Our original piece theorized [that] advertising would recover to prior levels. Instead, it has remained deflated, suggesting the perhaps the Internet really has enabled marketers to eliminate waste.”

He’s right, of course.