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Elevators trick people, you shouldn’t

April 28, 2008

This is a great article in the New Yorker about elevators. What do elevators have to do with marketing? With social marketing? It was much later in the article that I read this:

In the old system—board elevator, press button—you have an illusion of control; elevator manufacturers have sought to trick the passengers into thinking they’re driving the conveyance. In most elevators, at least in any built or installed since the early nineties, the door-close button doesn’t work. It is there mainly to make you think it works. (It does work if, say, a fireman needs to take control. But you need a key, and a fire, to do that.) Once you know this, it can be illuminating to watch people compulsively press the door-close button. That the door eventually closes reinforces their belief in the button’s power. It’s a little like prayer. Elevator design is rooted in deception—to disguise not only the bare fact of the box hanging by ropes but also the tethering of tenants to a system over which they have no command.

Marketing has always been about giving people you want to consume your product or service an illusion of some sort. Wear these shoes, jump higher. Use this shampoo, look better. If you know anything about food photography, you know it’s all an illusion.

Now, here we are in social media. Where a CEO can Twitter. Brands have blogs, Flickr pages, Facebook pages. There’s a crafty illusion built into this that it’s the product engaged in the conversation. Perhaps there’s a little prayer that goes on here as well. When someone fans a Facebook Page, perhaps they think, for just a second, that the brand will think they are special and reward them.

They are right to think it. The CEO of Zappos actually does this in his feed. He gives away shoes to followers of his Twitter feed. He even gave away a trip to Las Vegas. But if the CEO of Nike began twittering, one might suspect that it was ‘marketing’. I might. And yet, I would also suspect a healthy amount of conversation going on (button pushing if you will) in order to get something out of it.

So, this is the post. I read a fun little article on elevators, and jump to the conclusion that web 2.0 conversations with brands are the metaphorical equivalent of pushing the door close button on the elevator. A button that doesn’t do anything, but makes us feel like we’re doing something. I guess this is where Seth Godin would point out that if brands ensured the button worked, they would win.

I can think of countless ways that my metaphor breaks down. But also, as brands engage in social media and ask that people engage with them, I can make a few little assumptions about why. And thus, this post.

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