Towards a Stream-Dipping Model of Advertising

The idea of a “campaign” encompasses a set of assumptions ingrained in advertising culture. When we talk about launching an advertising campaign, we’re just as excited as the people who launched the moon rocket. It’s what we do: if we aren’t firing off a concept, we’re providing support services to keep it in orbit as long as possible.

In today’s environment, most people would agree the phrase “moon rocket” sounds archaic, even comical. But in that same environment, I’m starting to wonder if thinking in terms of campaigns might be just as archaic—for down-to-Earth reasons.

Working the crowd.
The more I realize how much the world has changed in 43 years, including our everyday concept of what “the world” entails, the more I question the effectiveness of the launch-and-reentry model of advertising.

Here’s the thing: communication is now a continuous stream for an ever-larger swath of the population:


[Excerpt, The Time Mobility Poll, 2012]

In light of this, reaching consumers persuasively may require a solution more comprehensive than extending a campaign idea with Web-relevant tactics. In a global sense, it may mean the end of the start-stop pattern of launch, promote, tease, extend, launch, promote, tease, extend…

Instead, it might be more effective to develop a single distinctive voice for your brand and broadcast it in a way more idiomatic to our increasingly digital culture. Using this voice, you could dip in and out of the digital stream, making waves, stirring up excitement—and sampling the ecosphere.

You’d build your communication around themes relevant both to your brand and your audience. Like a stand-up comic, you’d offer a fresh point of view on a range of topics, adapting your material on the fly.  

Off the pedestal.
In the process you’d learn how to connect more immediately to your audience. Instead of standing aloof on a flatscreen, a billboard, an envelope or a POP display, you’d be swimming downstream with the whole human race. Best of all, your message would be continuously developing, evolving, adapting, responding, like the everyday communications that people actually cherish.

You’d also opt out of the all-or-nothing gamble of constantly wrangling for a new message angle. You’d just be you—speaking in your own recognizable voice. 

Blurring: The new clarity.
Now, what I’m proposing has little in common with the obsessive chatter of foursquare updates or twittery trivia.  Your stream-dipping message strategy would deliver value in real time. It would be agile, lithe and responsive—able to seize on opportunities for timely commentary while staying on course to deliver a carefully staged message throughout the year. 

And without the pressure to “launch by the 30th,” you’d steer clear of classic, deadline mediocrity, the sickly pall that turns even the most memorable concepts into forgettable oatmeal.

What would a stream-dipping campaign look like? Exactly. It wouldn’t be solely text-based. You’d post video, animation and digital stills everywhere and anywhere you could fit your message to the surrounding context. And with that in mind, this approach would take far greater advantage of cross-promotional opportunities. 

In practical terms, going this route would also mean transforming the way you work with vendors and how you manage media placement. I haven’t forgotten that a store needing a holiday display also needs to install it in time for the holidays. 

It’s just that the message you displayed would reflect recent topical events in the stream. Instead of hawking “the Perfect Gift for the Holiday Season,” it would address the real-time experience—the highs and the lows—of making holidays work in a post-modern, post-traditional society

Tuning in to a riotously fragmented culture. 
That may be the only way to match your brand’s personality to the multifaceted, instantaneous nature of today’s world. Just as your audience typically has multiple windows open at once—from IM to email to RSS feeds to a crazy quilt of social tools—so your brand could also become more fluid, multifaceted. 

Over time, you’d find yourself blurring the lines between your brand and complementary brands. The more you grasped the power of mimicing your customers’ fragmented, and increasingly multimedia experience, the more pointless it would be to create a forced reintegration of that experience around isolated, disconnected brands.  

Is a stream-dipping model feasible? Well, it can’t happen overnight. But as a mindset, an ideal to strive for, it may be the best way to ride out the wave of change that washes over our industry with every spin of the apple. 


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Mark Laporta

Writer, Creative Consultant
New York, NY




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