Expert: Marketing messages must be simple

Published: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, January 27, 2005 at 1:09 a.m.
DALLAS - She calls it ''Survival of the Fastest.'' Living at the speed of technology may not be killing us, but Cheryl Swanson says it's forcing us to morph in unnatural ways.
''The result of this self-willed evolution is all the weird technology diseases that we're getting - sleep deprivation, stress-related illnesses, early senility and ADD, which is the status hallmark disease of this decade,'' she says.
''It's considered cool if you can't focus.''
No, Swanson isn't a medical or mental health expert. Rather, the 46-year-old founder and managing director of New York-based Toniq (pronounced tonic) LLC is a noted branding consultant.
She keeps tabs on the marketplace pulse for the likes of Gillette, Pepsi, Kraft Foods, Colgate-Palmolive, Nestle and Purina. These days, she's warning these household names not to overload the overloaded.
American consumers are hit with 1,500 to 3,000 ads daily.
In the last four years, Swanson says, more information has been added to the global memory bank than in the entire history of mankind prior to 2000.
We have to process factoids at 400 times the rate of our Renaissance ancestors.
''Way back in the '50s, there was this promise of technology giving us more free time,'' she said. ''Remember the Jetsons where the machines did all the work? Well, it didn't pan out that way. Technology is actually keeping us more tethered to work.''
Forget multi-tasking. Truly evolved workers ''hyper-task,'' seamlessly leaping from one activity to the next in a New York nanosecond.
So has Swanson ever achieved this heightened synapse connectivity?
''Are you kidding?'' she asked incredulously. ''I need things to be neat and clean so I can focus on one thing before I move to the next.''
That's precisely her point.
As a survival tactic, most of us instantly discard 85 percent of the information that comes our way, she says.
''The biggest message to marketers is to be empathetic and understand that consumers are editing out most of what they see,'' Swanson said. ''Putting really wordy messages out there won't work anymore.''
So what is effective?
''Clean, simple, symbolic, sensory and to the point,'' she advised. ''Humor and joy are good. Optimism is really strong right now. Add color to give consumers a sensorial uplift.''
Swanson coined ''Survival of the Fastest'' in 1998, when the trend began to rear its time-starved head. Now it's a full-blown cultural shift that's rocking the advertising world.
''Less than 20 years ago, we spent three times as much on food as we did on technology. Now it's reaching parity,'' she says, citing numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. ''That underscores how technology has become sustenance.''
Swanson says SOF has led to two major product trends: the fast and the unplugged.
''Fast brands help you go faster,'' she said, listing iPods, photo cell phones and Red Bull energy drink.
Unplugged are ''human go-slow brands'' that help us escape with moments of small pleasures.
These little laidback luxuries can be as simple as a well-designed broom by Oxo or dishwashing liquid in a fashionable bottle, she says. ''That's why Method Dish Soap did so well at Target. It was a new paradigm product, something functional that looked pretty.''
Another example of a lifestyle downshift is the Slow Food Movement, which took root in Italy, spread through Europe and is now hitting our shores.
It's an actual organization - - that has 80,000 international members in 100 countries dedicated to lengthy meals that celebrate creation and consumption.
Swanson says that Starbucks ''is an interesting hybrid because it's fast but also unplugged.''
''I think we're going to see lifestyle choices that are much more calm,'' she said. ''People are starting to take vacations at places where you can't get good cell reception and don't have published numbers.''
As for the Jetsons' unfulfilled promise of freedom from time-eating chores, there's hope, Swanson says. ''Honda (Motor Co.) is making the Asimo (Humanoid) Robot. That could be our Rosie of the future.''

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