Why slow is the new fast for marketing

It’s often been said that good things come to those who wait. In New Zealand this year, one of those good things was undoubtedly the slow television movement. The concept was born in Norway back in 2009, with a seven-hour journey from Bergen to Oslo broadcast on the country’s NRK2. Planned to mark the Bergen Line’s 100th anniversary, the show became a surprise success, pulling an average of 176,000 viewers.

This spawned a series of minute-by-minute rail and sea journeys including a coastal cruise filmed live over 134 hours. About half of Norwegians tuned into the Kirkenes cruise at some stage, with almost 700,000 still taking in the view just before midnight on Sunday evening.

NRK branched out into other topics, like knitting and historical lectures, and other broadcasters around the world jumped on board. Australia’s SBS pulled in a peak of 436,000 viewers last year for a three-hour version of the trip from Adelaide to Darwin on The Ghan. This success was followed with a 17-hour version of the same trip and a four-part series called ‘Slow Summer’.

New Zealand’s first foray into this format was also a series of four journeys, with each show running for three hours, starting in Auckland and eventually making its way to Milford Sound. ‘Go South’ aired on Prime TV for the first time on 19 January, with viewers also given the chance to buckle up for the whole 12 hours in one epic sofa-based journey.

Brands have also tapped into this with Ikea’s ‘Irresistible Pointless TruView Ads’ convincing people to spend minutes watching somebody washing dishes. Camera maker Leica released a 45-minute video of a technician cleaning a lens and KFC got 700,000 people watching cats on a four-hour Facebook Live session.

So, what’s going on? The one-word answer is escapism. We’re bombarded with information from all sides as soon as we wake up – the 24-hour news cycle, social media, corporate email – and people are looking for a break. Slow TV fits the bill as do slow cooking and other hobbies that take a long time to achieve anything. Welcome to The New Slow, where the journey is very much part of the experience.

Who wants to live forever?

The urge to slow down, and the culture that’s emerging around it, will be welcomed by many of the more senior members of our communities. But the ageing population here in New Zealand and around the world is even more relevant to another trend marketers need to be aware of. We call it The Elders.

Statistics New Zealand estimates the number of people over the age of 65 will almost double by 2046, reaching somewhere between 1.3 million and 1.5 million. They’ll make up almost one-quarter of the population and the rate of population growth in this age group is 10 times faster than those under the age of 14.

People aren’t just living longer, they’re also staying healthier. They’re more active, working longer and less willing to accept being dumped in the cast-off bin. As the internet and social media continue to widen society’s circle of empathy, we’re being forced to re-evaluate the cultural role of this increasingly large and influential group. They have their own superstars – like Iris Apfel and Sir David Attenborough – and media representations are changing as more people celebrate the beautiful wisdom of our older generations.

Gillette’s ‘Handle with Care’ is a great example of how marketing is changing its attitude towards the elderly. Here a brand that’s historically been associated with young, fit and attractive men celebrates the loving relationship between an ordinary man and his father, who needs full-time care after suffering a stroke.

Wrestling with the last taboo

Although we’ve come a long way in portrayals of the elderly and other minority groups, there’s one taboo we still difficult to talk about. It affects the elderly but it’s by no means exclusive to that group. I’m talking about loneliness.

The NZ General Social Survey found loneliness is most prevalent among disadvantaged groups – disabled people, recent migrants, low-income earners and the unemployed. It’s highest among 15-24-year-olds and rapidly on the rise. Research by Stats NZ found the number of people who reported being lonely most or all the time had jumped 70 per cent within two years, reaching 237,000 in 2016. Global research suggests time spent on devices is a factor, especially among younger age groups.

Last year, Tracey Crouch was appointed Britain’s first Minister for Loneliness. Professor Merryn Gott from the University of Auckland’s School of Nursing welcomed the appointment for its commitment to tackling this social problem, even though she questioned the choice of name. She wants to lift the stigma attached to loneliness.

Bisto’s ‘Spare Chair Sunday’ campaign, encouraging families to invite an older neighbour to the weekend family meal, is a great example of brands looking for ways to tackle loneliness. And there’s a hard business case behind the feelgood factor, with IBM research showing that brands able to communicate a sense of belonging enjoy revenue growth three times faster than those that can’t.

There are three important messages here for marketers – explore opportunities to take your audience away from the relentless pace of everyday life; be more inclusive of society’s increasingly active and influential elders; and consider how your brand can help tackle the loneliness epidemic. There are no quick wins here, but slow is the new fast for effective marketing. 

  • Richard Brett is the CEO of opr.

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