Tim Delaney of Leagas Delaney: how can we harness desire in the nano-second era?

The word desire suggests a long, smouldering longing for something slightly forbidden. It is laden with obsession, irrationality and, of course, sex. To be desired is one of the 5 best reasons to be born and the others are probably not worth recalling, being things like climbing Everest. Although desire can make some people look at a very large lump of rock and just ‘want it.’

But what of desire in a time where very little is unavailable to us? If we can see, buy, order, follow, track everything our heart desires in less than a second, what’s left but satiation? Does fulfilling a wish super-fast make it any less exciting? And how does an industry built on nurturing desire adapt to behaviour that may be going too fast to listen?

For a business that has tried to make a science of irrational behaviour, it’s only natural that these questions are whizzing around the Zoom calls of agencies, media plus research companies; governments are also wondering about how to address a populace that will not PAY ATTENTION to its latest missives.

The fact is that attention is what is at stake for all interested parties. An erudite pundit on a radio show recently said that he doesn’t read novels as they were written for a different time, with a wholly different belief in how much time people are prepared to spend reading them. He suggested that society has yet to accept that speed is now the operative word in the consumption of information about ANYTHING.

He wondered why 500 page novels are still being written and published. Why Hollywood is still bashing out 2, even 3 hour epics, as though audiences aren’t shrinking, not just because of poor content but because when you can be thrilled by a video of a few seconds, hours clamped to a seat can be a lifetime in TikTok years (some sort of equivalent to Dog Years in reverse.)

Yet desire is still a fundamental part of the human condition, honed over millions of years. But that honing took place without the global reach of technology; again the sheer speed with which TikTok (below), Boomerang and other platforms have taken hold of the mass psyche cannot be put down to fad, must not be assumed to be just another sidebar to slower forms of change.

If generations have grown up absorbing information at roughly the same speed (with the printing press, photography and moving pictures as blips along the way), what happens when new generations simply won’t wait for the information, objects or services, they desire – at nano speed?

In our industry, jackdaw-like as ever, we steal the TikTok mentality and play with it. But are we really addressing the fundamentals of the global change that is upon us? It is not just about doing shorter and shorter, whackier and ever stupider, slapstick films; their hilarity will continue to amuse the ever younger audience.

But what happens when that audience grows up? How will we create or nurture desire without the necessary time to do so? Famously, researchers used to track the gestation period when consumers bought a new car. The early customer journey took months – from dissatisfaction with current car, to brochure comparison, to car dealership visits etc. Months.

Now it’s seconds.

Our relevance as an industry will depend on answering the question: how do we redefine desire for a modern consumer; give it time to develop, feed it, encourage it as it moves towards action ie purchase; all at a speed determined by consumers’ unwitting , yet trained, response to incoming information? Whether it be a new fragrance, the latest trainer or a President.

They will watch Netflix blockbusters. And binge on box sets. Without ads. Because they are the ‘Skip Ad’ Generation who don’t give a jot about what we do for a living, what we produce, however brilliant we think it is.

Interesting times ahead.

Tim Delaney is Chairman of Leagas Delaney. The paper ‘Redefining desire to provoke action’ will be available online soon.

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