05 March 2009

Context of placement

Yes, another one about context, it's my new favorite thing, maybe I should add it to my list on the right there.

A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon an interactive campaign in a Midtown subway transfer: a promotion for the current new season of Big Love. The ads showed a bunch of people going about their everyday business, with headphone jacks above each person's head. So, I went up to one and tried out one or two of the jacks (I suspect the reason was a combination of "I'm in marketing, let's see what this is," and "Cool, something I can play with").


After reading a couple of things about the campaign just now (sorry this is sort of old news but please bear with me, I've been thinking about this a bit lately), I found out that the tag – "Everyone has something to hide" – directly relates to the content of the audio files – each person confessing their secrets.

The fact that I didn't know this detail kind of speaks to why I kept thinking about the campaign for a few weeks after the fact. On one hand, I am not sick of the "audio jacks in subway ads" thing yet, and like that there is some level of engagement involved, instead of static ads just talking at you*.

On the other hand, I wonder if the context of where this campaign was placed was taken into account enough**. These ads are placed in an underground transfer between Times Square and Port Authority. Both stations (and this transfer between them) have high, high foot traffic. The sea of people pouring through that transfer every day has enough momentum to pick you up right along with it, if you hesitate at all. That, combined with the state of mind one might be in at the time ("Oh, this long tunnel again" is how I usually feel), may not make for someone actually stopping to listen to one (or more) of these audio tracks. Maybe I had back luck, but the one I put my headphones into had a really slow start. My boyfriend and I were sharing ear buds, and we both got impatient after about 2 seconds of the "background noise" intro. I'm sure the copy was great, but sadly this was not the time or place to find out.

In short: If you're leading with a strategic idea, but the idea only lives in a place where people can't properly consume it, it falls flat and doesn't accomplish all that it set out to. If this campaign had been placed somewhere people wait instead of walk – bus stops or subway platforms, for example – I would have listened to every single one of the secret confessions by now... all I ever seem to have at bus stops is time (though that may not be applicable anymore, as I recently encountered a family of roaches on a Brooklyn bus and am on an extended bus hiatus).

* (I like the photography, too. The look/feel/lighting vaguely remind me of Jeff Wall.)

** I say "enough" because I read that the headphones attached to the L.A. ads were not included in NY because it was "assumed that New York commuters would bring their own." Interesting observation – and pretty true in a lot of cases – though I'm not sure how willing an average commuter would be to unplug from their favorite music to listen to an ad.
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