Just watched an interesting TED Talk about a new(er) concept concerning the development of cancer.
Breast cancer researcher and Distinguished Scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Mina Bissell discusses how the extracellular matrix and the environment of the cell nucleus relate to gene expression in normal and malignant tissues. [View the 16-minute video on her website.]
What does this mean?
In short, that context matters.
Genes — the things that control cell growth — interact with their surroundings. This, according to Dr. Bissell, determines whether the process of cell division remains controlled or, conversely, leads to a tumor. Her work is said to be changing some longstanding paradigms about the disease.
Having spent nearly 20 years of my career at a cancer center, I remain intrigued by the process of cancer. It’s ironic: Something so devastating and so threatening so closely parallels the process of life, itself. Notably, that without cell division and motility (movement), life could not begin; and all the features that make us human (eyes, fingers, organs) would not develop.
Yet it is these very two elements — cell division and cell motility — that, when amiss, give rise to malignancies.
Dr. Bissell’s talk reminds me of the epiphany I had some time ago regarding the significance of context in the marketer’s world.
While working at the above mentioned facility, we began advertising our services regionally.
Our ad placement — when and where our ads would appear — was determined using a complex set of data on the types of television shows our target audience watched, the radio stations (and times) to which it listened, and the newspapers and magazines it read.
The placement was derived by maximizing our budget to reach the greatest percentage of our target audience as many times as possible.
All very involved. And to this novice, at the time, reasonable enough.
After our spots began running, I received a call from someone who thanked me for advertising during her favorite television show — “Touched by an Angel.” And then I received others for the same reason. Yet, not a single call for any other spot.
The show wasn’t the highest rated during its time slot. And I’d never even seen an entire episode. Our spot appeared for one reason — and one reason, only: It was part of a larger buy that maximized our budget. The decision virtually ignored the topic or the type of shows in which our ads appeared.
Perhaps the callers understood that, in the absence of ratings, advertising might keep their beloved show on the air. But they were also motivated, in some way, to make those calls. Perhaps the poignance of the show’s story lines, combined with our ads’ emotional messages, engendered some unpredicted effect.
Such as they were, those phone calls got me thinking: If our spots appear in a heart-warming show like Touched by an Angel, and the viewers are so obviously moved, could the opposite also be true? For example, if our spots aired during “60 Minutes” in the midst of a Mike Wallace expose’ on government waste, investor fraud, whatever…would viewers have conscious or subconscious negative impressions of our organization?
(This might remind you of the movie, “A Clockwork Orange.” Though I couldn’t watch more than five minutes of it, the premise is thus: A delinquent participates in experimental aversion therapy to overcome his destructive tendencies. He’s shown violent films while being forced to regurgitate. The behavioral modification then links the two so that if he considers committing further crimes, he’s overcome with nausea.)
Most marketers understand context in terms of product distribution. If you want your product to be perceived as having higher value, select Macy’s as one of your channels — not Walmart. They also understand context from the viewpoint of a spokesperson. Dale Earnhardt, Jr., is an excellent choice to promote your high performance car. Jerry Lewis may not be the ideal candidate to pitch your life insurance.
But until companies (and their advertising agencies) begin thinking about context when running ads, they may be missing a huge opportunity. Or, conversely, making large mistakes.
Think of this the next time you see those ads in a public restroom.
Like the audience they reach, they offer great exposure. But the context? Well…you figure it out.