Earning Consent: Creative and Ethical Approaches to Marketing in an Attention Economy
Marketing is a necessary tool for getting the word out, but it doesn’t have to be a necessary evil. Earning consent to market to an intended audience, by giving them experiences and content that have real meaning and value in their lives, is not only a more ethical approach than attempting to get attention at any cost, it may prove more effective.
Arguably, time is our most valuable and non-renewable resource. In an economy where advertising is the main source of revenue for information and networking forums – social media, podcasts, magazines and events to name a few – advertisers are vying for ever smaller scraps of our time and attention, and many are willing to use manipulative means to get it (read just about any online marketing blog to learn the latest tips and tricks).
Tristan Harris, the former product philosopher and design ethicist at Google and leader of the non-profit movement Time Well Spent, points out that measuring a site’s value to advertisers by the amount of time user’s spend looking at it does not account for the dissatisfaction and harm caused by countless hours wasted online.
Among the many initiatives Harris is involved with is the development of tools for measuring how well web products align with the goals and aspirations of consumers, and therefore bring real value to people’s lives. While Time Well Spent is aimed at getting designers of big players like Facebook, Twitter and Google to be more ethical, advertisers can also aim to increase their ethical standards, and by doing so they may get ahead of the curve. As a recent Forbes study on the difficulty of marketing to millennials points out, young people are blocking out advertising and going to their networks for recommendations.
They are taking the power back by giving consent to receive advertising from trusted sources, and to earn that consent businesses must consistently provide content and experiences that are both desirable and life-enhancing. For example, Tim Ferriss’ podcast “The Tim Ferriss Show” has generated a huge following by being a reliable source of information and entertainment. Having earned his audience’s consent, he uses his podcast to leverage support and to market his own and other people’s work. This informal advertising is effective because his listeners have chosen to engage and have grown to trust the value of his recommendations.
As the hours spent on smartphones and social media attest, interactivity is effective at getting attention. Interactive technology can exploit this human value in order to benefit advertisers, but, when designed with the intent to enhance people’s lives, it has the potential to be an integral part of an ethical, consent-based, marketing strategy. From language learning sites like Duolingo, to the use of wearable devices to support community building at events, there are numerous examples of how interactive technology can be used to fulfill people’s values and goals. It is through these fulfilling activities that networks and communities of participants become actively engaged and willingly give their consent to learn about the products and services being offered.
A growing arsenal of tools, like ad-blockers and streaming sites, are likely signs we’ve reached peak attention wherein competing for people’s time in an increasingly sparse landscape will not yield more business. Providing experiences, information and products that are not simply desirable, but that satisfy real needs and values can build respectful relationships and earn the consent required to market honestly and effectively to a growing network.