Marketers love to talk about time: just in time, real time, right time. At the root of all this “time talk” is the realization that customers really don’t have any time for us, so we have to somehow jam our messages into the tiny little cracks that may appear in the wall of willful ignorance they carefully build against marketing. The marketer’s goal is to erode their defenses by looking for any weakness that may appear.
Look at the supposed poster child for real-time marketing: the Oreo coup staged during the blackout in the 2013 Super Bowl. Because the messaging was surprising and clever -- and because, let’s face it, we weren’t doing much of anything else anyway -- Oreo managed to gain a foothold in our collective consciousness for a few precious seconds. So, marketers being marketers, we all stumbled over ourselves to proclaim a new channel and launch a series of new micro-attacks on consumers. That’s where the six seconds came from. Apparently, that’s the secret to storming the walls. Five seconds and you’re golden. Seven seconds and you’re dead.
Oreo surprised us, and it wasn’t because the message was six seconds long. It was because we weren’t expecting a highly relevant, timely message. Marketers, to be fair, try to deliver the right message at the right time to the right person, but it’s really hard to do that. So we overcompensate by delivering lots of messages all the time to everyone, hoping to get lucky. Not to take anything away from the cleverness and nimbleness of the Oreo campaign, but they got lucky. We were surprised and we let our defenses down long enough to be amused and entertained. Real-time marketing wasn’t a brilliant new channel; it was a shot in the dark -- literally.
There’s no six-second gold standard of engagement. If you can deliver the right message at the right time to the right
person, you can spend hours talking to your prospective customer. It’s only when you’re trying to interrupt someone with something irrelevant that you have to hopefully shoehorn it
into their consciousness.
Think of it like a Maslow’s hierarchy of advertising effectiveness. At its best, advertising should be useful, so that quality sits at the top of the pyramid. After usefulness comes relevance: even if I don’t find the ad useful to me right now, at least you’re talking to the right person. After relevance comes entertainment: I’ll willingly give you a few seconds of my time if I find your message amusing or emotionally engaging. I may not buy, but I’ll spend some time with you. After entertainment comes the category the majority of advertising falls into: a total waste of my time. Not useful but irrelevant, and not emotionally engaging. And making an ad that falls into this category five seconds long, no matter what channel it’s delivered through, won’t change that. You may fool me once, but next time, I’m still going to ignore you.