No bigger idea than advertising?

Note: This post first featured on “The Art of…” blog, under my name: David Atkinson

In “A bigger idea than advertising” Kevin Roberts (June 26th) wrote:

“Slowly. People are no longer interested in being preached to about functional benefits and features [of products]. In their lives they are looking for connections and that’s what they expect from brands they care about. We call those brands Lovemarks. We are heading from the Attention Economy to the Attraction Economy where Lovemarks thrive. In the Attraction Economy, advertising agencies have to step up and out, or be buried.”

My own view is that people have never been interested, whatsoever, about being preached to about anything, unless of course – and the BIG example here is religion – those people are fully engaged (read “connected” if you like) with a product in the first place (and I use the word product in the broadest possible sense).

It is not “slowly the people” but “slowly the advertisers”. It may well be “a bigger idea than advertising” but it is not Kevin’s, Saatchi & Saatchi’s or any other “ex”-advertising executives’ idea that people are looking for connections in their lives. If it were, some of the real social thinkers of this world (may I mention Weber?) might need to be reassessed! I think not!

Is it really a case of Kevin’s notion that:

“…it’s not about what brands can use to reach consumers, it’s about what consumers are prepared to engage with…”?

Or, is it merely a case of:

“…it’s about what brands can use to reach consumers WHO they BELIEVE are prepared to CONSIDER an engagement with them”?

I would contend that the concepts of Attention and Attraction Economies are not a feature of social evolution but a particular “social construct” of the “marketing world” itself. More accurately we could perhaps talk of Attention Marketing and Attraction Marketing. But then what is the difference behind these two signs?

Are we “grabbing” social attention or do we simply start with attention as a given? If we have attention we are in a de facto position of engagement, where the “consumer” is implicitly seeking more knowledge about “…functional benefits and features [of products]” Call this preaching to the converted if you may! As an “evolutionary process” we may look back in time and note that the “Attraction Economy” could simply be a reflection of a world in which far fewer products existed and where any product would, if highlighted to the consumer in some way, “demand attention”. In contemporary society where we now know everything, where we can now “buy” anything and everything, where the range of products, prices and quality create confusion no product “demands attention”.

The brand issue is, if we do not have attention, we must seek to attract!

The evolution? The evolution is the realization, within the marketing world – not the consumer – that before a consumer’s Kantian “disinterested” engagement with the brand’s world – they (the “marketers”) need to establish the “beauty” factor!

After the attraction, the engagment and the marriage! The brand’s products, their “…functional benefits and features…” will be King. (Even if – in an increasingly dispoable society – they are King for only a day!). But before love comes beauty! And the cynic in me tells me that the sign “Lovemarks” is no more than a beautiful force for attracting agency clients as consumers of branding products. Beauty is, after all, axiomatically in the eye of the beholder!

  7 comments for “No bigger idea than advertising?

  1. Susan956
    July 1, 2007 at 12:23 am a pragmatist I admit I often have issue with concepts that don’t translate to serve a real world purpose. However, in fact yours does really, it’s how you look at it. When you first spoke of “basic social processes” I felt you were writing about some universally shared process. I found it difficult to imagine a social process as such that would be shared by every culture/race across the globe (tho there may be one or more). Now we’re talking subsets I can see that.

  2. davidsartof
    June 30, 2007 at 5:39 pm


    If we take the grounded theory (GT) definition of “basic social processes”, these may be described as ‘…staged, patterned, pervasive and fundamental social processes…” which enable maximum explanatory grip to be obtained. In GT terms, these basic social processes can be located by defining what is resolved to be the main concern of the subject domain. A grounded theorist might locate the basic social process ‘through asking the question “what is the main concern or problem of this domain?” What indeed is the main concern of the marketer? Is it the communication of his/her message? If it is communication then what are the pervasive process elements that combine to give rise to a successful communication. My view is these pervasive process elements transcend any need to consider specific media. My own work is conceptual and not replete with real world examples.

    I have, as a means of exploring the world of art, defined a basic social (artistic) process as a conjunction of three elements: innovation, mimesis and craft skill. The exercise of a craft skill, for example, may be substituted by painting, poetry, dance, music, and so on, in order to then talk about painting, poetry, dance music and so on as art forms. My own argument is that just because someone may be a skilled painter, this does not confer upon that person the status of artist.

    I might envisage (although I have not spent any real time on this) that a basic social process of communication could be constructed around the four conceptual elements of attraction, attention, mutual-(i.e. fair, equitable or meaningful) exchange and (transferred) understanding.

    Not sure that this is helpful – as I say, alot of my thinking is conceptual.

  3. Susan956
    June 30, 2007 at 2:24 pm

    Please give me a practical example or three of a basic social process please? One example would do if you are going to pose a generic or more philosophic construct. More than one please if it’s just plainly street practical :)

  4. davidsartof
    June 30, 2007 at 11:33 am


    Just to pick up on your last point re: “common communication”. I do not think that I am suggesting that there is, in some way, such a “beast”.

    The commonality I imply, simply lies in the concept of a basic social process. It is my belief that such process (certainly as I am inclined to borrow and use the concept from grounded theory) actually allow us (or at least me!) to transcend specificities of social life (in this case I am no longer concerned with what language, what emotion what strata I may exist on. Another example of such a process is my conceptualisation of Art (but more of that in my book).

    It is quite clear, as you rightly observe, that there are many, many (and I would go so far as to suggest many more) instantiations of the basic process. These exist by virtue of the very social “differentiators” you suggest. Therefore I do not belittle specificity! Once we understand (truly understand) the basic process involved, we can then intelligently add back specificity to achieve much more meaningful applications of (in this case) communication!

  5. Susan956
    June 30, 2007 at 9:55 am

    Well..language can be exclusive and I believe much advertising aims for an exlusive audience. If so, is this a wise decision or a short sighted one. What assumptions may such a position be based on.

    I read your comment re Lovemarks with interest .. “no more than a beautiful force for attracting agency clients as consumers of branding products”.

    I might question “agency clients” but in the broader sense I guess this phrase is correct.

    Lovemarks was a promotional idea and it has certainly gained a lot of interest and certainly advocacy. Is it a new ideas as such? Not, as a concept explored to it’s fullest, in certain fields but it seems to have been quite new to advertising/marketing. You may be interested to google Lovemarks and see the list. I proposed the band george so you can see what I wrote.

    Two other of my nominations never appeared. One broke the nomination rules so perhaps fair cop. The other didn’t and I have no idea why it didn’t get up. I felt a little failed in not getting feedback.

    I examine a lot of grounded theory works; its seems the modality de jour of the business PhD student lately. It probably isn’t an approach I would use but its systematic and I understand the choice.

    I’m not sure I do agree there is a beast called common communication any more; certainly not in highly stratified societies at least. We may all smile and display similar emotions but fields, socio-cultural strata et al are partially self promoting and self containing/generating (insular) by way of their adherence to language exclusivity I would contend.

  6. davidsartof
    June 30, 2007 at 9:09 am

    Hi Susan,

    My academic work is very much philosophically orientated. From such a position I believe a lot can be said on any subject without needing to know the fine details.

    In grounded theory, there is the concept of a “basic social process”. Communication is, I would venture, one such basic process within which attraction and attention are key elements. At this level, advertising, branding (whether traditionally based or through such concepts as Lovemarks) and so on are relegated to mere applications of process.

    Your readings of attraction and attention provide me with no problems. But, for a moment, step outside of the marketing arena and consider that communication is a basic process in people connecting. Not only do we need attraction and attention, but we also need “fair exchange” (which may invoke negotiation) and some form of “understanding check”. All of these are performed within the context of some form of common protocol – be that a common language (verbal or body!).

    The ideas of fair exchange and checking understanding can rarely be seen in many “communications applications”. As a case in point, the idea of a blog – take this one for example – can only be accorded a status as “communicating” if there is actually communication going on! How many times do we see comments go unanswered!!!!

    Though I have not read Kevin’s books, I might sense my ability to uncover these ideas – even if embryonic and dressed up as some “new” insight! Once the basic social process is understood we can begin to identify many things – and many more tangents!

    Tangents are the food of philosophy (to me!).

  7. Susan956
    June 30, 2007 at 1:19 am


    I believe you’re generating a movement into ‘philosophy of advertising’. :) A lot to think about here.

    I said a while back on KRConnect that I often observe current sites talking about ‘new’ social concepts that I know were being published in academic journals 10 years ago (and often more). In this light I embrace the bringing together of commerce and academe and having the guidance and networking power of people like Kevin to help us ‘realise’ and promote ‘what we know’ – because what we know, at least the discourse of this, is powerful stuff. At the same time, at the end of the day we need to step out of the discussion and arrive at a ‘slap it down on the table’ idea or plan. Some academics have not been overly adept at this. Times are a ‘changin.

    Attraction and attention. How are these being defined? You speak of this. This of course is a topic unto itself but seems ‘key’ to the theme under discussion (obviously).

    I read attraction as the sort of advertising where you would almost be grabbed by the throat and shaken : either via noise or visuals or a combination. The Grim Reaper ads in Australia may be an example of that.

    In the context I read attention as ‘paying’ attention to the wants and desires of the consumer. Or at least what is potentially evocative. I guess some may argue Grim Reaper was highly evocative. To me it was but it was a very imposing ad and not an ad that pitched at the level of my person as such.

    It’s rather like photography and making pet pictures more personal by getting down on the level of the pet as opposed to standing above it.

    I can imagine if all the KRCommunity members gave their own definitions of the two terms and allied the ideas with an example ad, we would see shaded of meaning and interpretation emerge and these shades may make for very different advertisements if marketing researchers utilised the same.

    You and I would know, from academic research, the problem with always pitching at the majority and the absolute gift potentially available in a notion that is idiosyncratic.

    An example. My Master’s degree researched student and teacher conceptions of environmental phenomena. One child came out with an extraordinarily complex explanation for one concept. It was a scientific misconception but because it was so complex and was such a firm idea in the child’s mind, I explored further. As it so happened, the child had been present at a talk given by a sun cancer health group and the speaker had shown overhead projection ‘slides’. The child had seen one and viewed it in a completely different way than intended. In the end the speaker (who I contacted) said they needed to review the image because they could see how the child had formed the misconception and where one child had, others would also.

    Now, idiosyncracy can make for fabulously innovative ideas and advertisements. Sometimes, going with majority expression, simply delivers ‘more of’ and this is ‘noise’ rather than a message.

    I’ve gone off on a tangent but I enjoyed the trip :) as for Grim Reaper? Maybe..sometimes..we need not to be too comfortable. Maybe..sometimes..important messages are better delivered via shock and attention.

Comments are closed.