“14+ years!!! I FINALLY killed the T-REX.”
My daughter, now all of 21, proudly messaged me with a picture of an unrecognizable clump of green pixels on her TV screen. But I knew immediately what she was celebrating -- the death of the T-Rex level boss from "Tomb Raider" that had terrified her as a child and frustrated her teen years.
I also get an app alert from Instagram telling me she just posted the same photo and sentiment there a minute before. Okay -- so the social network gets the news first and Dad second. Good to know I still rate somewhere in the top tier during those mobile moments when she downs prehistoric dinosaurs.
“This is like a life accomplishment here,” she texts. Well, yeah, she overcame a major bogey of childhood. She may have lopped off a few years of therapy for herself right there. My daughter was captivated at the age of four when she first saw me play "Tomb Raider" on the PlayStation. Back in the day I was the mad college professor who encouraged his media studies classes to explore critically every kind of popular “text,” including video games in their papers. And I played and wrote about them in both academic and popular venues. Anyone remember ZDNet and Happy Puppy?
For years, our couch was her cave, as she acted out Lara’s moves in leaps across cushions and scaling maneuvers over ottomans as I played them out on the TV. "Sam, that pillow is not a stable rock," I warned. "Oh, crap" -- there she went. The three-second delay every parent knows between the fall and the child understanding that the couch hit her. Tears, hugs, no broken bones. Bad couch.
When she was old enough to manage the controller herself and advance beyond Pokemon Stadium she took up her heroine Lara Croft and took over the controller…until the T-Rex on Level One rounded the corner. With a cuteness that still makes me smile inside, she would physically run from the screen and hurriedly hand the controller to me. “Daddy, kill it.” How often is a father asked to be a real virtual hero and down a charging T-Rex for his daughter?
This went on for years, into teen-hood when she would replay the game, even in upgraded versions…only to hand the controller to me at that critical point. “Here!” she said in what now had become a frustrating routine for her, still heartwarming for the otherwise disposable Dad.
She announced the other day that after playing the latest and excellent pre-quel "Tomb Raider" she was inspired to buy an old PlayStation and go through the original with an eye toward downing the legendary T-Rex bogey. Initially she wasn’t going to tell me at all about the project and surprise me with the mobile moment via MMS when she actually had overcome the beast.
So what is the point of all this personal storytelling in a column about mobile marketing? Well, some of you may have asked that good question years ago when I first started writing about my daughter and wife in these columns. And my answer is the same for both. The personal nature of the story is the point and always has been. The mobile device has always been more than personal in the usual sense of it being a device contoured to individualized use and built for portability by one person. It is an intimate device on an unprecedented level in media history because its primary use case is person-to-person communication.
While that may be changing as smartphones move to maturity, the core functionality of the device is an intimate one, and everything else on the phone exists in that context. And consider that its progenitor, the landline phone, was a “medium” too, but most people have roundly rejected its use as an interruptive (usually during dinner) ad vehicle.
So the point of using my family in these columns from time to time is an attempt to embody in the column’s architecture the strange but persistent juxtaposition the mobile medium represents. It reminds us about the challenges these devices pose to any media or marketing brand wanting to make an impact here. And it reminds us just how far away mobile marketing is from inventing the forms of customer communication this device demands.
When this industry talks about “mobile moments,” generally, they are talking about the times and places where people consult their phones and so are addressable in some way. When you or I (in our everyday human alter egos) have “mobile moments” they usually resemble something quite different -- something closer to a daughter who can’t wait to tell Dad she beat that monster that scared her.
These are the mobile moments that should humble every marketer looking to make a mere “impression” here. You can’t match or mimic the kind of intimacy, relationship and rich interactivity that every person who uses these devices has every day. It is a moment that gets its meaning from a dense personal history informing it. That is what intimate communication is about, and why it is not something strangers like corporate brands should try to imitate. Maybe you can facilitate it. Maybe you can honor it. But most of all, maybe you can create less intrusive and impersonal advertising that doesn’t feel like a relic of the previous century’s mass media.
Interruptive, promotional, impression-based advertising methods are the T-Rex of 20th-century mass media -- big, dumb, inelegant and brawny, charging onward in the belief it can mow over every new medium, even that funny new animal with the short shorts and ponytail and guns taking aim at it.
We haven’t even come close to slaying that T-Rex. But my daughter, as usual, is ahead of the curve.