Immediacy vs Depth: which side are you on?

Do you have the attention span of a spider monkey that’s drunk five cappuccinos?

I was delving into the issue of shortening attention spans recently, and one essay in particular caught my eye. Written by Douglas Rushkoff , media analyst and documentary writer, it was entitled ‘The internet makes me think in the present tense.’

Rushkoff argues that ‘the internet pushes us all towards the immediate. The now. Every inquiry is to be answered right away’. Then he states: ‘Once the internet changed from a resource at my desk into an appendage chirping from my pocket… the value of depth was replaced by that of immediacy masquerading as relevancy’.

Interesting. There are two main points at work here. A) depth and B) immediacy. Both will play out their outside-the-doner-kebab-van scuffle, as one tries to stamp down the other, but which – if any – will come out top dog?

Let’s look at immediacy first. If someone responds quickly (and intelligently or amusingly) to your tweet, post, email, YouTube upload, comment or status update, then you acknowledge them as sharp, astute, informed. Brands are no different, which is probably why Old Spice did so well in terms of user engagement and awards – immediacy was inherent in the premise, and it certainly pushed the medium and real-time marketing possibilities in a zeitgeisty way. It was a brand, but acting with all the wit, nimbleness and irreverence of a fellow web user.

A couple of interesting pieces of work from Crispin Porter also used immediacy to powerful effect: ‘Show us your pizza’ for Domino’s Pizza, and last year’s Best Buy ‘Twelp Force‘ campaign . Speed of response is key; all those spider monkeys out there, just like me, who are sipping coffee and feeling their eyebrows twitching up and down and hearing their iPhone hollering their name for the umpteenth time expect nothing less.

So, immediacy has value. But does it have more value than depth?

After all, digital media is saturated with vast swathes of content. So to make it consumable for the masses the tendency is to chop it up into little portions, like sausages cut into easy-to-eat chunks (there is a nice execution of this insight by Taxi Vancouver for Mini,which still holds up well).

Does it have to be this way? Well, it obviously has to be easily consumable if it’s campaign elements. But many of the most immersive sites do offer enough depth for a large amount of time to be happily frittered away at one sitting. Examples include Street Art View by Red Bull, Builders of infinity by Lego  or The wall of Fame by Edding.

Ultimately, it depends on the user. Immediacy vs depth – which do you place most value on? Will the two always be intertwined? If depth is about immersing people in meaningful content, then is immediacy merely the technique to deliver it effectively?

The answer may lie in all sorts of tensions: advertising vs media agency. Comms planner vs creative. Client with three years experience in their current role vs less than one year.

Finito! (And if there are any spider monkeys that are on their sixth cappuccino, you can breath a sigh of relief now.)

  • Neil Hopkins

    Great article – thank you!

    It actually echoes some thinking I had last week, about Fast Paced and Slow Paced Social Platforms ( )

    There are pros and cons to each approach. Immediacy is great for building short term awareness of depth based pieces, and depth based pieces can be shared with an urgency that only immediate platforms can bring.

    So long as one isn’t relied on at the expense of the other, I think that both can co-exist happily…

  • simon white

    Can you have both?

    I can’t answer in depth here, but I think it’s possible. One platform for the short- term engagement, another for longer term or serendipity. Isn’t that what a good campaign is? Burst of TV followed up with interations in print and radio, as was the old day 😉

    Now, with multiple platforms, a similar approach can be made.

    Or is it simply that certain places work for some people?

    Interesting post that raises some good questions.

  • Pete Giblin

    As a rule of thumb if you’re speaking to existing customers then they’re already engaged, so they’re more likely to eat up a great in-depth campaign. For example the work AKQA did for Halo, I loved it because I’m a Halo fan, but non-fans might’ve been put off by it’s immensity / just didn’t care because it wasn’t an immediate payoff.