STANDING OUT IN THE AGE OF MULTIMEDIA TSUNDOKU – Podcast Transcript

Jessica Kingman
Hello, everyone, and welcome to The Richards Group Digital Trends podcast. I’m your host and Digital Strategy Group head, Jessica Kingman. And in every episode I’ll be diving into one of our 10 Digital Trends for 2020. Today I’m talking with brand planning group head, Mallorie Rodak, about her trend, Standing Out in the Age of Multimedia Tsundoku. Hi, Mallorie.

Mallorie Rodak
Hi, Jessica.

Jessica Kingman
So let’s first talk the basics. What is tsundoku?

Mallorie Rodak
Tsundoku is a term that originated in the Meiji era in Japan, and it’s this idea of acquiring a ton of books but not reading them. It’s that same feeling that I get when I go in your house, Jessica, and I see all of your books across the walls. It’s this idea of a piling of unread books. So it’s a really kind of interesting term, and it’s not digital at all in that sense.

Jessica Kingman
Where did the idea of multimedia tsundoku stem from?

Mallorie Rodak
So I can’t take credit for this idea. I really became exposed to this idea reading this book called Hitmakers by a man named Derek Thompson. And I’m just enamored with this book, and he talks about this idea that modern-day tsundoku is multimedia tsundoku. If you think about the number of tabs that you have open on your computer, if you think about your Hulu watch list, if you think about Spotify playlist, your podcasts that you want to listen to, the shows that you want to consume, the videos that you want to watch, the notifications for social media, it all becomes very overwhelming. We sort of have this piling of unread multimedia content or unwatched, or unlistened to multimedia content these days. And so it’s a more modern take on this very old term “tsundoku” from Japanese culture.

Jessica Kingman
We actually talked about this recently where there’s this idea that we as a society are increasingly time poor. So time poor, in fact, that we are skipping really kind of instrumental tasks in our day like making ourselves dinner. How do you see this being extended across the landscape of how we as consumers consume content?

Mallorie Rodak
You know, I think, as consumers, we approach it one of two different ways. I think on one hand, we try and meet the demand, right? We try and maximize the amount of content that we can consume. There’s a really interesting trend called podfasting. That’s right, podfasting, and that’s essentially listening to podcasts at an accelerated speed. And this is sort of the gateway to all sorts of different types of sped-up media consumption. So if you’re listening right now, and there’s a way for you to speed up the podcast, see how you might enjoy that and how much quicker you could get through consuming content because I think we’ll only see this idea of podcasting continuing to grow. People now are watching their TV shows at an accelerated speed, and all sorts of different types of consumption. And if you think about, you know, a lot of the research that’s come out recently about the fact that we’re not reading deeply anymore, we are skim reading, just from the fact that that’s how we’re processing information on the Internet, you start to see how, you know, we’re changing, we’re trying to meet that demand of all of the content that’s available on the Internet. On the other hand, I think we’re overwhelmed. Right? I certainly feel this sense of anxiety with all of my, you know, list of things that I want to consume. And there’s this concept called timeboxing. And this is something that comes from Agile planning, but it’s really taking a transition over to time management in general. So it’s this idea that you have a task that you want to do, and instead of just putting it on a to-do list, you put it on your calendar for a certain block of time. I think we do this here at The Richards Group with timeboxing. Now people are kind of taking this principle and using it for limiting the amount of content that they consume on the Internet. So I’m going to allocate these two hours in my day to social media consumption or watching TV and actually timeboxing that out, so that you can truly limit the amount of content that we consume. So you see these kind of two ends of the spectrum, right? This podfasting and listening to content faster than ever so that we can consume more than ever, and also limiting the amount of content that we consume. So it’s interesting to see how people are responding in different ways to the multimedia tsundoku.

Jessica Kingman
One of the things as advertisers that we hear a lot about is snackable content, and we’re seeing the size of our ad spaces really get smaller and smaller from 60 seconds to 30 seconds to even the smallest of six seconds. Do you believe that these shorter pieces of content are the best way to not only manage our own consumer appetite, but also a way for brands to break through the current multimedia tsundoku that exists today?

Mallorie Rodak
I think a lot of brands have probably initially responded by thinking about the length of their content. If we are strapped for time as consumers, maybe if we shorten the content, we can break through and become more snackable, more digestible to consumers. And that’s certainly one way to think about it. And there are merits to that way, of course, but I think it’s a race to the bottom of the ocean, essentially, when six seconds, when one second becomes, you know, not short enough. Where do you go from there? And so rather than thinking about the length of the content, I think it’s important to think about the content itself and what types of messages break through on the Internet. And that’s really kind of the central question that I asked myself as I wrote this article.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah, you argue that in order for brands to really break through in this cluttered space, they have to become architects of familiar surprises. So what is a familiar surprise?

Mallorie Rodak
That’s a great question. There’s this thesis that we as consumers, we are both neophilic and neophobic. So that is to say that we love to be exposed to new and different things. But also we dislike anything that’s too unfamiliar. And so I think this is kind of an evolutionary response that you’ve seen a lot of organisms across the world, that when we see something that’s too new, some sort of stimulus, we have this initial response of fear and avoidance. But the more that we are exposed to something, the less we fear and avoid it. And this is something that has been present in psychology for a long time. It’s called the mere exposure effect. But we can’t just expose more people to our message more often, because that’s not really a sustainable solution for brands. We don’t have an unlimited amount of money. So there’s another principle that I talked about in the article called perceptual fluency. So it’s essentially this idea that some things can just be processed easier. It’s this feeling of quick and easy thinking. Have you ever heard anyone say, Oh my gosh, this is hurting my brain?

Jessica Kingman
Yes. All of the time on this one. Yes, yes.

Mallorie Rodak
So perceptual fluency is things that are analyzed and processed in a way that’s easier. And that feeling for when things click, you know, when all of a sudden you’re presented with something that feels unfamiliar. And you get it. That’s called the aesthetic aha, right? So very interesting sort of idea. But being an architect of familiar surprises just comes from the fact that there is power in being both familiar and surprising in our messaging, something that feels comfortable and safe, but at the same time pushes the boundaries of what we know and expect. And that’s really the idea of architects of familiar surprises.

Jessica Kingman
Do you think that’s different from how brands have approached old advertising media like television or radio in the past?

Mallorie Rodak
I think that’s a great question. I think that there are elements of familiar surprises in a lot of different types of media. If you look at popular movies today, think about all of those blockbusters that you’ve seen over the past few years. Nearly all of the recent blockbuster films are either remakes, their sequels, or part of, you know, some sort of anthology or they’re movie interpretations of books. It’s all familiar ideas that have been packaged in hopefully a surprising way. So, certainly, this idea of being an architect of a familiar surprise extends in those avenues. But I think on the Internet, it’s exacerbated, it’s a bit more important because it’s easier than ever for us to scroll right by that piece of content, or to click “next” in our Instagram stories, or just, you know, click that skip button. So essentially, I think being both familiar and surprising is even more important when it comes to Internet content.

Jessica Kingman
I want to switch topics a little bit and talk about memes. You talk in your trend about memes being more popular than Jesus on the Internet today and how that format has really just become the perfect familiar surprise. I’m interested: Why do memes excel as a familiar surprise?

Mallorie Rodak
I love this part of the article because it’s such an important way in which, you know, younger generations communicate on the Internet. And, you know, diving into memes – it’s just been so much fun for me. And I think it’s essentially a system of shorthand for expressing things that feel broadly familiar yet incredibly specific at the same time. The whole background on memes was this is a term that was coined in 1976. It comes from a Greek word that means imitated, right, so already you’re starting to see this sense of there’s something that’s being expressed in a way that’s imitation, right? So it’s even when you talk to people who research memes for a living, they refer to different iterations of memes as offsprings of the original meme. So I think it’s all quite interesting. And if you think about it, memes are familiar, you understand either the format, maybe you recognize the visual, maybe you recognize this scenario; in some way, it should feel relatable or recognizable. But the combination of all these elements coming together often happens in a really surprising and humorous way. And it’s my belief that the most popular memes that are shared on the Internet are the ones that are both familiar and surprising, right? The ones that push that boundary of what’s familiar in some sort of way.

Jessica Kingman
You’ve referenced a rule that I think also kind of ties really nicely into memes, right – is this rule developed by the industrial designer, Raymond Loewy, called MAYA or Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. And he used that to create some of the most iconic designs that we have today, right, the Coca-Cola bottle, the Shell and the Greyhound logo. So I’m interested in your perspective on how the MAYA principle applies to creativity in the age of tsundoku.

Mallorie Rodak
Yes, I think the MAYA principle is my favorite part of this trend. And when I heard about it, it just instantly stood out to me. And really over the past few months, year, I have been using the MAYA principle when I talked to all of my clients, because I feel like there’s a really important grain of truth in this. So MAYA principle, all that stands for is Most Advanced Yet Acceptable. And Raymond Loewy, he was, you know, an industrial designer; he had a lot of wonderful ways of bringing MAYA principle to his designs. But I feel like there’s an application to the MAYA principle in advertising and branding, being the most advanced that you can be yet most widely acceptable. There’s the zone of normalcy, things that we all know and are familiar with. And then there’s that zone of experimentation and the sweet spot is really being MAYA, being Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah. I am interested in your take on what brands you think have excelled using that formula of familiar surprises and the Most Advanced Yet Acceptable.

Mallorie Rodak
There’s some wonderful examples out there. I think maybe one of my favorites was the “It’s a Tide ad.” Do you remember those, Super Bowl and then subsequent, you know, all the buzz online? What a wonderful example of a brand that’s taken the idea of being familiar yet surprising. So if you’re not familiar with it, essentially, it was these really notable moments from commercials from the past. And this surprising revelation that this is, in fact, a Tide ad. It was the second biggest trending topic on social media behind #SuperBowl. It was used tons of times, the hashtag, and I love what the creators talked about. They talked about the importance of the familiar nature of the spots, they said, you know, it sort of plays with your mind in a good way. You watch and you think, I know this ad, you know, this ad was really big. And then you connect that, and you maybe feel those emotions connected with those ads, and then you have the reveal that, oh, this is actually a Tide ad. So in a way, these creatives that worked on those ads were employing this principle of MAYA in the way that they express their brand.

Jessica Kingman
Yeah. So one of the brand examples that you don’t mention in your trend that I think is kind of a perfect example of a familiar surprise as well as the MAYA principle is Mailchimp’s most recent campaign where they launched a bunch of different variations of kind of content products, etc., around their brand names. I’m interested in your perspective on Mailchimp and why that campaign was so successful.

Mallorie Rodak
I absolutely love that campaign. You’re right. It absolutely exemplifies this idea of familiar surprises. So a little bit of background on the Mailchimp campaign – they essentially broke out their target audience into different segments because they realized that they couldn’t just be broadly familiar. They needed to be familiar to their target audience and what they might be interested in. So they had different groups that enjoyed movies or music or food or, you know, beauty, things like that. And instead of creating just a video to those groups, they actually created different products. So for the food lovers, they created something called FailChips that were little broken pieces of chips that they actually sold in stores. They actually created a song with Dev Hynes from Blood Orange. What was it called? It was…

Jessica Kingman
So the band was called VeilHymn.

Mallorie Rodak
VeilHymn, that’s what it was. Yes, I loved it – it was a great song. Yeah, that’s what’s so wonderful about this is they took what’s familiar to these different groups of people and really spun it on its head with something unexpected and surprising. And I think the reveal that it was, in fact, for Mailchimp was a big part of that surprise.

Jessica Kingman
How do brands begin to architect their own familiar surprises?

Mallorie Rodak
So I think there are a lot of things that brands can do to be more mindful of how they’re being both familiar and unexpected in the way that they communicate. I really broke it out into three phases in my article. In Phase One, I think this is an exploration of what’s familiar. So take your target audience and do a deep dive on what’s truly familiar to them – use things like Google Audience Explorer, perhaps MRI, or Simmons or, you know, dive into the data lake to see really what things are resonating with your audience. And if that feels too broad, break it down very simply to the consumer journey. You know, what elements are familiar along that journey, along that path to purchase? This is something that you know, I don’t know if brands do often enough. For one of my clients, Dr Pepper and 7UP, we did a day-in-the-life exploration, where we took all of these different data points that we knew about their target audience, what was familiar to them – I’m talking what music they listen to, you know, what shows they were apt to watch. And we put that out on sort of a timeline. And we actually showed clips of those shows and listened to clips of the music that they listened to. And I don’t know, people may say that’s superfluous. But I think it’s so important to understand the context of what’s truly familiar and comfortable to your audience. So exploring the familiar is really that first phase. And then a second phase – it’s idea development. So now that you know what’s familiar to your target audience, how do you create a surprise? And in this phase, it’s really a lot of different brainstorm constructs. I love brainstorming, and I love to think about different ways to shake up any sort of traditional thinking. There’s all sorts of brainstorming techniques that I get into in the article, things like starbursting, where you have something familiar and you generate questions iteratively off that idea; there’s mind-mapping, which we may be familiar with, where you create associations from an original idea. You know, even think about contradictory ideas to those things that were familiar in Phase One, you know, challenge the assumptions of a familiar idea. And see how you can connect things that are familiar, but, you know, not connected in some sort of way to really get that breakthrough sort of unexpected nature of an idea. And then in the last phase, this is really the MAYA kind of testing phase. So, really, as you evaluate these ideas, I’d say consider the furthest that you could push this idea before it became unacceptable to your audience to really get to that Most Advanced Yet Acceptable point. There’s also research that you can consider that could help you understand where the point of diminishing appeal may be for a design or message you’re considering, or, you know, how familiar is this idea? How surprising is it? How perceptually fluent is this idea? There’s – this is going to get really nerdy – but there’s some neuroscientists at the University of Southern California that have actually developed a system for understanding surprise and how ideas surprise consumers. So once they investigate how you could research and kind of stress-test your ideas to understand if you really are hitting that point of MAYA Most Advanced Yet Acceptable with the ideas?

Jessica Kingman
So in honor of multimedia tsundoku, I’m interested – how many tabs do you currently have open right now?

Mallorie Rodak
Oh, Jessica, too many. I’ve got all of my social medias open. I’ve got a ton of Google Docs open. Probably all sorts of articles related to this digital trend as well. So if I had to estimate, maybe 30. Is that a lot?

Jessica Kingman
That is a lot. I really, like I was expecting like 10.

Mallorie Rodak
Oh, okay. Well, flip the question, what about you?

Jessica Kingman
I mean, that’s not really fair.

Mallorie Rodak
Gotcha.

Jessica Kingman
I probably have like 15. I have 15, reasonable, like a nice just half of yours. It’s a reasonable amount of tabs.

Well, to read more about Mallorie’s trend, Standing Out in the Age of Multimedia Tsundoku, as well as other trends we predict will make an impact in the advertising landscape in 2020, please go to trends.richards.com. Mallorie, thank you very much.

Mallorie Rodak
Thank you so much.

 

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