Everything Bad is Good for You

08 Jun 2005|Lee Shupp

Steven Johnson has just written a very interesting book called “Everything Bad is Good for You: How Popular Culture is Actually Making Us Smarter” The book argues that many of the activities that we consider “bad,” like watching network TV shows or playing video games, are actually good for us. Johnson utilizes the approach pioneered by media observer Marshall McLuhan (“the medium is the message”) who focused upon the forms of media rather than content.

Focusing on form reveals many interesting insights. Take TV.

Johnson argues that TV viewers now are much more sophisticated and cerebral than TV views of the past, because plots have become much more complex, storylines have many more twists and turns, and we track multiple storylines within the same episode of a show. Shows like “Hill Street Blues” and “West Wing” expanded the complexity of plot, storylines and character, and we loved them for it. Shows like “24” are pushing the envelope even further. I think Steven is right; look at a rerun of an old drama show and you’ll likely feel that the show is much too obvious and simplistic to be interesting. His argument is that we’ve become much better at deciphering order and meaning from complex or incomplete information.

I believe that consumers are getting smarter about everything- media, advertising, marketing, you name it. The bar is continually rising higher, whether or not we are paying attention. Because consumers are getting more sophisticated, we need to design experiences that are more complex and nuanced to keep consumer attention.

We recently worked with a retail client who discovered that their stores were so consistent in appearance, and easy to navigate, that shoppers were going on autopilot as they entered the stores, not noticing subtle changes. The stores were not complex enough to be intriguing. Now they are considering how best to create a more complex, yet compelling experience.

While Johnson focuses upon form, ignoring content, both matter. Form is one form of experience; content matters too. While the more common mistake is to focus on content outside of form, they must be viewed holistically to understand overall consumer experience.

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