Who Has The Time?

Ialmost forgot what this column was about, I had the idea so long ago. I think it was, I don’t know, an hour ago. Good thing it wasn’t yesterday. I’d never have remembered.

Who can deliberate? This is the IM Age. We don’t have seconds to spare for anything.

Which, come to think of it, is probably why Baretta walks free in the San Fernando Valley, unchained, insane and feeling very pleased that he pulled it off. He probably did the crime, but the jury had no time.

Anyway, I’m too overwhelmed to digress.

See, I was on my way to the DMV to fail the renewal test for my driver’s license (for the second time, I think, but that was last week, so it’s a bit murky) when I saw a billboard for the film Be Cool. Big photo of John Travolta, legs crossed, staring steely-eyed out at traffic—and at me. With this copy: “You have 5 seconds. Impress me.”

Besides there being something inherently creepy about a giant Scientologist staring at you, this board gave me the chills. It crystallized something that’s been nagging at me forever (or for a couple of minutes, at least).

We all know about the fast-paced Internet world we live in. Commercials wallow in “We save you time!” appeals. But a blipvert couldn’t convert the postmodern consumer. We’ve reached a watershed. Five seconds is all you get.

Child ADD. Teen ADD. Adult ADD. Pet ADD. Nobody can concentrate. We don’t even say “concentrate” anymore. We say “focus,” because it’s quicker.

Short attention span? How about no attention span. It’s not a disease, it’s a communications condition—advertising deficit disorder. And it is just not possible to market to hummingbirds.

I don’t think 30-second spots are losing their effectiveness because of DVR technology. They’re losing their effectiveness because they’re so damn long.

Well, we have to blame someone, because that’s what we do. At the top of the list, I put pandering to juveniles by marketers (it used to be marketeers, but that took too long to type). Anybody—my adolescent, for example—who chooses movies to watch on TV based on whether they’re “old color” (made more than a half-decade ago) or “color” (made more recently than the Chinese food in the fridge) is not someone upon whom multimillion-dollar marketing budgets should be built.

But they are, and this is what you get—a nation of people who zone out before the voiceover finishes the first sentence. Cater to the larvae of America’s comfort classes, or even the underclass, from whom the others have learned that pants that aren’t falling down around your buttocks are not worth wearing, and voila!—hummingbird marketing communications.

Second, I blame technology, which allows us to do things more speedily, which allows our employers and our spouses and our larvae to give us more things to do, which means we have less time to do anything, which means we can’t stop long enough to pay attention. (The only exception being supermarket checkout lines, in which time is slowed down so much that it actually reverses. Probably. Seems like. Who can remember?)

Third, I blame Martin Sorrell. I don’t know why. Everybody blames him for everything else, so why not?

Finally, I blame the desperate advertisers and agencies who understand the problem, on a cellular if not a conscious level, and turn to “nontraditional” gimmicks to solve it. (Because ruminating on a challenge, soberly weighing the pros and cons and then taking decisive, well-informed action is so last quarter.) But most nontraditional doesn’t work. Nobody has time to listen to some fool at a bar talking about how great his beer is. And when nontraditional tries to tell stories? We don’t have time for stories. We forget six-minute Internet movies in less time than it takes to watch them.

That’s why American TV commercials are so crammed with stuff—in the futile hope that somewhere, somehow, somebody will remember something. A logo. A tagline. Anything.

OK, I’m done now. I don’t remember what we were talking about, but I hope you liked it. Out.

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