The smell of freshly ground coffee. The taste of your favourite tortilla. The feel of a new book in your hands. There are some experiences the interweb can’t offer.

As people, we have five senses for a reason (if you ignore common sense): to see, to hear, to touch, to taste and to smell whatever, whenever and wherever needed. As brands become more and more digital - and there’s no reason to suspect that they won’t - we need to acknowledge that at best we only touch upon two of these in the digital space so it’s vital to compensate for the rest.

When it comes to choosing which of the senses we’d rather focus on, one research tidbit I came across recently helps paint the picture for us. It stated that people get more depressed if they lose their sense of smell than if they lose any other of their senses. Given that online we mostly use our audio-video capacities, this odious fact surprised me and highlighted the untapped potential it was pointing at.

Think about having to entertain a bunch of moles. There’s an Eastern American breed, which is blind and has very poor hearing, but the moles smell in stereo. They rely heavily on this sense to identify where they are and where their prey is.

So do we need less YouTube and more Smelltube? OK, I’m exaggerating, but we’re facing a very similar challenge as digital-first brands and campaigns march on. If we’re going to ignore all our senses and continue to think of people as IP addresses, we won’t be making full use of our resources and will opt for online for convenience above anything else. Who wouldn’t like to reach an audience in the click of a button?! But is your campaign actually entertaining and fully engaging? We have more than our sight and hearing to work with; just as moles are so much more than visually and audibly impaired.

If we could replace the missing senses with surprise and entertainment, we might be able to find more value in the thumbs up or thumbs down on social media from the mini-Caligulas we have now turned into. Consumers who get entertained whilst staying true to a brand’s values could be the key to a campaign’s success. It all comes down to entertainment. Otherwise, brand content just become gnats around the campfire - annoying.

This begs the question: How do you engage with your audience online when there’s little room for all sensory exploration? With digital, you need to maximise the users’ experience to compensate for what you can’t bring in from real life. This is why video platforms are so successful. But for how long?

So when it’s go time, do you start by choosing the best platform for your campaign or with the content when aiming to win your audience’s attention? The challenge with digital is that it’s limiting. When you think of the technology available before the big concept, you end up designing to the platforms and not the ideas in your head. And there are so many devices out there that don’t work with each other. The more straightforward it is to sniff out your target audience first (this is where the mole comes into play), the more effective it is to build your content from there.

One way is to create great campaigns offline; The Fearless Girl is a significant example of how successful this can be. The stunt, although implemented on the street, managed to create buzz in digital as well. It was on everyone’s lips, keyboards and social timelines and it caused a massive stir on every channel out there, giving the State Street Global Advisors the sweet smell of success.

Another way is to look at how brands are using gamification strategies like the Asos Rewards programme, which generates content sharing. Digital rewards are doubled by the bragging rights of sharing in a bid to boost customer engagement levels and boost loyalty.

Although the internet is king, then consumer attention is queen, and the digital world has another challenge - people’s short attention spans. As consumers, we are ruled by habit. Whenever we have a moment to spare, we plug into social media. And when we’re scrolling through, we are looking to be entertained; nosying around, trying to find the next scoop; something we can share or comment on so that our social persona looks cool. If in this journey to find sensational content we see an advert, we normally scroll past it. The more ads we see, the more our frustration grows. I’ll leave it to you to approximate how many ads are targeting us per day, to judge how close the audience is to saturation.

Brands, more than ever, have to be careful. Just putting stuff out there and invading people’s privacy isn’t going to win them over. People are more savvy and picky and you might end up paying through the nose for a campaign which isn’t relevant.

The biggest trap we can fall into as creatives and marketers is thinking that anyone cares about our brand as much as we do.

Consumers only pay attention when they have a need which can be fulfilled. And if you think most people care about your brands or your creative as much as you do, then your work is bound to fail.

It’s as plain as the nose on your face: when invading people’s digital privacy, at least make it interesting and entertaining and enrich their lives. Start creating with this challenge in mind, not just with the client’s brief, and you’ll see how much you can improve. A great experience, which lives and breathes your brand, will leave you feeling special.


By Andy Bolter, creative partner at Yes&Pepper

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