Are you familiar with “Buzzword Bingo”? You may know it’s more plain-spoken sibling “Bullshit Bingo”, the rules are much the same. It is a game satirically invented for boardrooms and corporate meetings, though I’ve no evidence to show it has actually ever been played, openly at least.
The premise is simple: each player chooses certain words or phrases likely to be said by someone who speaks because they adore the sound of their own voice rather than actually having something to say. Think “synergies”, “close the loop”, “touch base” and so on. There’s one that has been doing the rounds for the last couple years which I can stand no longer. It is said carelessly, to fill space on a brief or in the room. It is said, most of the time, by people who have no idea quite what it would look like were it to actually happen.
That word is “engagement”. And it needs to leave the marketing table and return to its societal seat amongst couples who have decided to get married. It belongs there, it has a happy life there. Amidst the marketing budgets of corporations, engagement has no place, though the media companies and platforms that are trying to obtain your advertising dollar will continue to argue otherwise.
Saying “engagement” gives the speaker an out. They don’t actually have to say what they mean. “We’d like the work to be engaging.” What does that mean?
Does that mean within the coveted 18-24 year old demographic, an audience whose attention is pulled this way and that by an almost endless list of devices, websites, networks and household names, you’d like your product or service to be what they all talk about all day? The same for mothers who already have a list longer than they can care to remember of online resources and friends to turn to, while balancing their own careers on one knee and a toddler on the other? Has anyone ever stopped to consider the enormity of this task? The millions of dollars wasted every day by people whose job it is to provide content for these people? The hubris of an industry or marketing manager to think it can be cracked as a matter of rote!
When we say “engagement”, usually a company wants an audience to do something. Upload a picture, share a video, tweet a message with a particular #hashtag. The reason most user-generated campaigns fail is because we ask people to do things they don’t already do, to adopt a new behaviour for five minutes for very little reward. As anyone who started 2012 with a New Year’s Resolution can attest, behavioural change is really, really hard. Much harder than marketers, under the guise of launching this week’s campaign, give it credit for.
So much clamours for our attention, most of it failing to deliver on any kind of promise of being “engaging”. So I have a suggestion, something to try: when you start to say “engagement”, stop. Stop, and take a deep breath, and say “entertainment”.
What happens when you slip that word in instead? Suddenly what you’re looking for is clearer, the territory more defined. The ask on the audience is lower, which means they’re more likely to give you the time of day. If your promise was “Give me two minutes, just sit there and I’ll make you smile”, how do you think people might respond?
The “soap opera” was named so for the detergent companies that would sponsor the cheap daytime television dramas in the 50s and 60s. It was a nominal investment in a burgeoning medium where companies, seeking to steal some of the latent attention this TV shows attracted, bookended segments with their own messages. The premise was simple: if women liked the show the thinking went, they would be more inclined to buy particular brand of detergent. In a category like cleaning goods, where so much product is wildly interchangeable, a good soap opera could make all the difference.
Fast forward to today. The now classic Old Spice campaign featuring “the man your man could smell like” mined the same territory. A conversation about the product is tedious, even for the marketing manager. Pushed to a place that is genuinely entertaining however, and the hallowed ground of “engagement” takes care of itself. I can’t say for sure, but I doubt “engagement” was in the brief that lead to that work. I would however put money on the team at P&G having been conscious of only needing to make people smile, and betting on that being enough to give them the edge they needed.
Hundreds of millions of views, comments, conversations and a triple-digit lift in sales later, laying out a case for “engagement” is the last thing on anybody’s mind.
Now, who’s got “Bingo”?