Near the beginning of the series, TORCHWOOD: MIRACLE DAY, one of the main characters, an ER Doctor, realizes that they have to do a radical change in the way they work the ER – because when nobody can die, triage priorities change in how you treat people.

By no means is consumerism making such an abrupt change, but one could wonder if that change has already begun and we should be evaluating how the rules of engagement might be changing in advertising.  Certainly, consumerism fluctuates with the times – sometimes people spend more and sometimes people save more.  The way in which they consume was relatively steady with the forms of consumption growing, yet following a similar path of bartering, going to a store to buy or ordering through a catalog.  But the growth in the past decade or longer has made that change exponentially – you can still do the above (thought bartering keeps rearing its head as an alternative either making a comeback or retreating further into obscurity) but you can also do a huge amount of research and make numerous purchases without leaving your bed.  One of the largest shifts in consumerism is that, sometimes, those purchases from bed are against other people in bidding on second-hand market items.  The questions surrounding the secondary market are too huge and divisive to even get into here, but technology is completely enabling people to not only ascertain a product’s value when they want to buy, but also make a decision to buy based on the value they expect when they have completed their use of it.  Alas, the opportunities to consume are seemingly endless while individual’s abilities to spend are not so limitless.

It also used to be that the timing dynamics of advertising were much shorter – the ad was either in print or on TV for a period of time – and the assumption (or hope) was that consumers would act immediately in response to those influences.  With technology being what it is and the economy being in a state that is sometimes hard to even know when you’re up or when you’re down, those timing dynamics are shifting in increasingly dramatic and variant ways. We would need to pair a degree in marketing with a PHD in mathematics, economics, psychology and perhaps even quantum physics to get to a point where we might have an absolute solution.  As we don’t have that, we’ve got to work our own way through by looking at examples around us:

  • I am so far behind on watching shows in my DVR that, if I actually pay attention to commercials, they are from months ago if not last year.  It was helpful in some instances where images of last year’s NFL promos brought happiness while the lockout was going on this summer.  I can’t tell you how many movie trailers were shown during my time-shifted shows that were already out of the theatres by the time I watched the shows a few weeks later.
  • When looking through websites and apps, I’m seeing ads for items I’ve already purchased or are not in the market for – meaning a wasted impression.
  • Digital billboards are cool, but there are now so many more opportunities to miss the impression as the billboard rotates through slides. Perhaps the only time I’ve wished for a red light to be longer was when I had just caught the last millisecond of an ad and wanted it to cycle through again…
  • With so many requests to be Liked on Facebook or hash-tagged on twitter, there is so much information to pour through and if I’m not online at just the right minute, I miss MANY things entirely due to the volume of feeds on my FB Wall or my Tweetdeck.
  • There are so many choices coming at any one time through all the types of media, there is a much higher proclivity to say “Forget about it. It’s too much and I’m turning it off.”
  • Alternatively, there is so much information that recall is limited and we are left searching for hours comparing products – but who has the time to do that.  Effectively, with this example and the two directly above,the choices are so many that it can physically and mentally be debilitating.
  • This list can go on and on…

Again, this doesn’t touch on the current concern in the economy that PEOPLE JUST AREN’T REALLY SPENDING MONEY.  There are many things on my mind that I want – from the cool Adidas Superstar sneakers at the Undefeated store to the Mercedes SUV I want as my next car – but they are all waiting.  The key is – what will I recall that I want?

The recall is the key. What can we do in marketing that will not only influence demand, but also influence recall when the time comes that the consumer can actually afford to consume?  Some verticals have this easier than others – especially daily consumables that need more active replenishment and are, therefore simpler to recall.  But others, like those mentioned above or lifestyle, fashion, beauty and travel products, need to take the long-term benefit of their efforts into account.  How will they generate excitement and interest in their product and enable them to easily recall that product when the time comes?

We need to find or create the vehicles to help consumers with recall.  Alternatively, we need to be open to new outlets that might be able to help achieve this effectively – both in cost savings and extended reach.  Whether it is being a founding sponsor for an event, charity or business, or a marketing plan that includes spends with new dynamic cost-effective applications that enable residual awareness beyond the original marketing window, there are ways to derive revenue by driving or growing recall.

In far too many cases, companies and organizations are leveraging their slimmed-down workforce to produce the output the company was doing before with fewer resources.  When this is done, there is no choice but to follow the status-quo and do things the way they have always been – even when the economics and the consumers are changing.

Just as the members of the fictional ER of TORCHWOOD determined that its more effective to treat those with the smaller injuries first since the others couldn’t die, let’s hope that we collectively take a good look at what we’re doing before we find the relationship between advertisers and consumers entering into triage.