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October 20, 2011
Are We Perfectly Content to Occupy Our Laptops?
In marketing, just as in life, technology is redefining action
If you work in advertising or marketing, like me, you spend a good amount of the day (and nights and weekends) plugged in to a laptop or other digital device. It’s how we make a living, communicate with others, and inform and entertain ourselves.
But how active are we? In an era of likes and retweets, have we redefined what taking action really means?
For me, it’s been fascinating to watch people start taking to the streets in this hyperconnected era. Events like the Tea Party rallies, the Occupy Wall Street protests, and the Arab Spring demonstrations have brought people together en masse in ways we don’t often see. Even if events get organized and promoted online, it’s only when crowds appear in public that people start paying attention.
Think about it: the deluge of “I bet we can find 1,000,000 Facebook users to…” groups might be big in numbers, but not in effect. Several hundred thousand people liking something on Facebook don’t cause the same visceral reaction several hundred people protesting in a park do.
I’m not dismissing simple online action; it can have very good effects. It’s very easy nowadays to sponsor someone’s race for charity; just go to their sponsor page. But does that mean I’m passionate about the cause? Of course not. It takes offline passion and other types of action — people to run the race, organizations to use the money, etc.
How does marketing relate to this? For agencies and their clients, it’s a conundrum. Our clients all want some sort of call to action in their marketing — and often more than one. Call this 800 number. Click on the website. Follow us on Twitter or like our Facebook page. Find out more. Become a fan. And occasionally, buy our product or try our service.
Not everyone agrees on what the ultimate action is, particularly online. I’ve heard people recently use the word “hits” as an acronym for “How Idiots Track Success.” Some folks believe that other techniques such as likes, recommendations, or other person-to-person mentions of a brand were more valuable measurements of effectiveness. But if that’s the desired action, clients will have to determine whether that’s good enough for them, particularly if sales increases don’t follow as a result. And each client, it seems, has a different expectation from their marketing efforts.
But online action can reverberate, and quickly. Marketers know quite well that when they make a mistake or do something that’s perceived as wrong, an online avalanche of tweets, emails, and blog posts can affect their brand.

Think of the recent online outrage over Bank of America’s plan to increase debit card fees and Netflix’s plans to raise prices.
How many people will turn their ire into action, and actually cancel their Bank of America or Netflix accounts? I know you can cancel a Netflix account online; I’m not sure if you can switch banks entirely online. But I’m willing to bet that if you had to physically go somewhere to cancel your Netflix account, a lot fewer people would do it.
When we spend so much time in front of a screen, we’re both engaged and detached at the same time. But more and more, it’s a normal way of living. So it’ll be interesting to see whether we see more offline action from all the online activity: More people putting their money where their typing fingers are. More people cancelling their bank accounts. More people participating in organized protests. More people voting on Election Day.
I hope we figure out what type of action really moves people, online and offline. Because if we can’t get the results our clients seek, they’ll take the ultimate action and kick us to the curb. 

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Since 2002, Dan Goldgeier has been writing the most provocative advertising columns about advertising and marketing -- over 170 of them, covering every related topic you can think of. Now based in Seattle, Dan is a copywriter and ad school graduate who's worked at shops big and small. 

Visit his copywriting websitesee his LinkedIn profile or follow him on Twitter.

And please, buy his book for 99 cents.


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