Media X: Passion of the Primates

Let me tell you about monkey music and the Fighting Irish and what both can teach you about how to make or break your communications campaign.

In a recent study, researchers played music for cotton-top tamarins, which are South American monkeys that look like Rod Blagojevich if his hair was white, in order to see how effective the music was as both attention-getter and emotion trigger.

Sure, enough, the primates responded to the sounds, but they didn't groove to human music, which they ignored. Instead, the primates reacted with anxiety or comfort, respectively, to music based on actual monkey calls that convey fear or "affiliation," i.e. safety and friendship.

In other words, our furry little friends heard what was relevant to them and nothing else. Which, forgive the pun, is pretty key for marketers to know.

I know what you're thinking: No, really? And my response is: don't be such a wise ass and keep reading. Because this is one of those communications truisms you honor almost entirely in the breach these days.



Yammer on all you want about engagement. Let's hear more yada yada about how you have to entertain as well as inform. And by all means, chase long tails until your tongues hang out. I don't care what you're singing. If it isn't the right monkey music, your message is tone deaf.

I was reminded again of this marketing truth and how much it is ignored over the weekend. I went to a wedding in an exotic place called South Bend, in a foreign country called Indiana. While there, I toured a 1,250-acre football factory called Notre Dame that has two lakes, 138 buildings and Touchdown Jesus.

The campus was beautiful. The city was warm and friendly. I had a great time and met a lot of wonderful people. And yet the place spooked the shit out of me. More to the point, except for a few fireworks factories and strip-club billboards on the bus ride out from Chicago, I don't recall a marketing message the whole weekend, and of course, I had to be exposed to thousands of them.

The reason why I was tone deaf in the heartland is relevance. To me, South Bend is thoroughly alien. It plays the wrong monkey music. I'm sure South Bendians (Benders? Bendites?) feel the same way when they visit Los Angeles. Especially Hollywood, where there really are aliens.

Communications 101? Absolutely. Then why is every damn ad I see or hear accompanied by hip hop? We're not all posers, you know.

And again -- I'll say this until it stops, I swear to God -- why is whichever media agency that handles Sonic still buying shows that I watch, when the nearest Sonic is five hours away in the high desert bordered by country bars and meth labs?

How about a little less trick plays, like Twitter home pages and videos in print ads, and a little more basic blocking and tackling, like making sure your message and media choices are relevant? It's just good monkey business.

2 comments about "Media X: Passion of the Primates".
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  1. Rob Frydlewicz from DentsuAegis, September 30, 2009 at 11:55 a.m.

    Most likely the ads you didn't retain while in So. Bend were about snow blowers! As for me, I only seem to retain ad messages from commercials from the 60's/70's so perhaps in 20-30 years today's ads will finally show up in my consciousness.

  2. Richard Jenkins, September 30, 2009 at 12:58 p.m.

    As a 35 year radio veteran my favorite disconnect is hearing phone numbers on radio ads. It's the wrong monkey music. Have you ever heard of anyone ever buying anything from a phone number on radio? A website address yes, a phone number on radio - no.

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