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The Long Sell

2 min, 39 sec read
14:51 PM | 6 February 2012

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I’ve seen the exact same ad at least 30 times this week – displayed to me, not according to my own volition. Google has implemented ads that follow you across each of its properties. If you add it up, I’ve spent at least 4 hours on pages where these ads were playing. I want to talk about the possibilities of this new development, but first I have to bring you back a few decades.

Open a New York Times from the dawn of the 20th century and you’ll see ads for Arrow Shirts featuring handsome patrician men relaxing during various leisurely pursuits. The aspiration to a new lifestyle is the one element in advertising that has been continuously and consistently effective since advertising, as we know it today, has existed. It is this endurance and proven efficacy that has made “brand” synonymous with “lifestyle.”

If you think about it, the effectiveness of creating aspirational lifestyles in advertising is quite logical. We buy things to live better lives; it makes sense to show us what our lives will be like after we buy these things in order to crystallize those benefits and fan our desires.

Unfortunately, one of the most popular criticisms levelled against advertising is that it’s shallow, it’s one dimensional, and it’s fake. It stands to reason that the more a customer feels a lifestyle is a real possibility, the more likely they are to let themself imagine themself in the lifestyle, and the more tempted they will be to buy into it. If we can create lifestyles that feel more real by adding more layers and textures and themes, the imagination of the customer will have an easier time latching on and transporting itself into the lifestyle.

We have technology today that gives us the ability to paint these textured and layered lifestyles. Technology enables us to target and track customers who have a high proclivity to the lifestyles we are creating for them, and it has given us the ability to send messages to those selected people over a longer period of time. The Google example is a perfect demonstration of this technology. What if instead of showing me the same ad 30 times, it showed me ads that changed and evolved over time? What if the ads evolved as I interacted with the brand (wherever and whenever this occurred), always a step ahead of me, pulling me deeper and deeper into the brand’s lifestyle?  Ads could tell stories of epic proportions, we could recruit the world’s best writers to take on these weightier narrative challenges, but most important of all, we could create lifestyles that exist not just for the duration of the ad, but live on in the minds of the customers, who consciously explore the world we’ve created in their imaginations.

This is what I call the “Long Sell”: using our rapidly advancing abilities in tracking and connecting with consumers to create lifestyles that the customer imagines themself in, thinks about, and ultimately, hopefully, tries to live out in reality. 

Read Tony's previous post, 'Eat with Smaller Utensils, Eat Slower, and Get Full Faster' and next post: 'HTC should reposition its brand'.

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