Wake up. Check your phone. Turn on the radio. Watch TV. Look at your smart watch. Read the paper. Each of these touch points there is information on information on information. Often, because the incentive is to have eyeballs on a page, the information is not positive. It is intended to cause outrage since outrage is attention. At different points in time, this style of information presentation was useful because the information would get shared. More attention would be given to a brand/product/etc. But is that necessarily all that useful in the constant news fire-hose of today?
Bad PR in Concept
As noted above, the initial part of this argument is that attention is a good thing. P.T. Barnum is one that is credited with the quote, “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”. While this is currently more of an aphorism than a cliche, it is still worth discussing. A lot has changed since the potential date of this quote. I will warn that this isn’t going to end with a clear answer to an indefinite question, but more of a stream of consciousness. What this will ideally be is a way to make an idiom closer to an axiom.
One of my favorite non-marketing, marketing moments is in the Pirates of The Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl. The context is not all that important, but the exchange goes:
Norrington : No additional shot nor powder, a compass that doesn’t point north,
looks at Jack’s sword
Norrington : And I half expected it to be made of wood. You are without doubt the worst pirate I’ve ever heard of.
Jack Sparrow : But you have heard of me.
It may seem silly, but this is just another version of the initial quote of being “heard of” regardless of the context.
We can tangentially tie this to some pretty interesting research that can show (under some conditions) that short term memory can be seen as a negative. But things start turning over to a positive through time. This is about misinformation, but the point still holds for what I am trying to accomplish. Another interesting and related phenomenon is “mere exposure“.
This phenomenon occurs when we have a more positive association with something once we are exposed to it more. For an everyday example, I often find myself not liking a song initially, then liking it more after several repeats. I’m not an evolutionary biologist, but that seems to make intuitive sense in that something that you see more probably didn’t kill you, seeing it more often is probably a good thing.
You might be saying that the above is anecdotal, but there is a pretty common proxy of using a firm’s stock price as an indicator. This is objective data that will generally show that an issue will cause a stock price to fluctuate, but then will generally return to normal shortly after. A pretty common example I have seen a lot in popular culture is the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal and the rebound two months later. There are other potential proxies, but this is one of the more common. It is imperfect, but it will suffice for our needs.
So, that is a short intro to what I am trying to lead in to, is this something that is different now? Most of my argument would rest on the sheer volume of information that is available and constantly changing. Trying to remember what we were mad about yesterday is almost impossible. The 24-hour news cycle pushes outrage and information constantly and all are vying for attention.
I was formerly not a user, but I have since become quite taken by TikTok. My For You page is quite well curated and can easily use several hours accidentally if I am not careful. I am on the lookout for these things and I am still finding myself prey to the constant feed of stuff. In this same vein, more and more products are being pushed at me at a greater rate. “Hearing” about new stuff is more and more difficult.
The stats are difficult to know, but the ranges I have seen for the number of ads seen in a day ranges from 5,000 to 10,000 per day. Contrasting this to the time when the Barnum quote was cited. This must be orders of magnitude more frequent. So, all this to pose the question, given that we have such an onslaught of information at all times, is the benefit of “heard of” losing its benefits? I guess time will tell since it would be assumed that, if it stops working, then we will move away from using this style.