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Information overload, cats in clothes and the communications industry, by Parys Communications’ Anthony D’Alton

23rd April 2013

Psychology has coined the fantastic term “infobesity”. This describes the state of gorging on so much information that a person has difficulty retaining details and making decisions. There is a growing body of scientific work dedicated to this state of information induced anxiety, and even a pressure group to research and highlight its effects.

Unsurprisingly, the Internet is being cast as the catalyst. Technological advances have democratised access and anyone with an internet connection can now feed into the vast amount of content delivered to people on phones, tablets, laptops, televisions, cars, music players and even toast. Yes, you can now literally consume content at the breakfast table.

According to technologist Clay Johnson, this has led to the industrialisation of digital media. Cheap, but popular, content is pouring off the production lines, leading to a never-ending stream of cats in uniforms and Dogfort cartoons. He compares this to the industrialisation of the food industry, where mass-production facilities ignited a race for cheap processed snacks. Combine this with the continual drip feed of status updates, tweets, videos, photos and check-ins and it’s no surprise the average person now has the attention span of a two year old.

This is reflected in the way “traditional” media is now operating too. There is a reason why the Daily Mail’s homepage stories feature a headline and sub-header which pretty much summarise the full story. The paper has realised that the infobese don’t want piffling things like sources, facts and quotes. This is also evident in the ever-increasing pace of the news cycle. Publications crash through stories in a never-ending race to index higher on Google and provide readers with fresh hits of information.

So what does this mean for the communications industry? On the face of it, it’s a good thing. In a world with a hunger for information, those who create and distribute it run the buffet. However, look deeper and there is a long-term threat. Human beings can only deal with so much information before each new exposure becomes increasingly less meaningful. With more sources producing more content, desensitisation occurs, impacting the depth and quality of message conveyed. In essence, the effect of carefully crafted pieces of creative content, news stories, social media feeds etc, becomes diluted.

Our industry has been somewhat swept away in the torrent, churning out progressively higher-volumes of content which have a diminishing impact amidst the shouting, in the hope that some of it fleetingly sticks. No one is to blame for this, if we are experiencing the industrialisation of media then everyone is feeling their way somewhat. It is also cheap and has provided much needed diversification in lean times.

The campaigns that will succeed in the future are those that realise the diminishing returns of this approach and are brave in their desire to differentiate. This means a return to focusing on quality ideas, which are deployed with regularity in a variety of ways. In addition, campaigns must have a single super-concentrated message which will stick. As an industry we have been talking about keeping it simple for years, but in a time of information bloat and decreasing attention spans, this is now absolutely vital.

Now, did anyone make it past the cats in uniforms?

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