A client asked me recently, “Why do people want to engage with my brand?” We had a long conversation about brands and how great ones now seem to play out like “games” rather than “movies.” We went on an on about the importance of journey mapping for the consumer - creating a brand “bread crumb trail” that just keeps on paying off The Promise and engaging people further. We talked about Value Exchange and the truths of only trying to engage people if you have some form of intrinsic value to offer them for having given you their precious attention. We covered all the bases.

But with a look of almost dejected innocence he said again, “I agree with you Tom, but why are they (people) even there in the first place.” “What do they want from us?” “Don’t they have something else to do with their time?”

good question.

I went on for a bit about psychographics of the digital native (you know, people) wanting to be connected to each other and the things they are passionate about - and sure - most of this is true. But what’s even more true is I’m not sure I REALLY had an answer better than: People just do…

Thinking back, it was a bullshit, terrible response. I could just see the scoff welling up inside him. After all, aren’t we just a bunch of dorks playing in our basements? Are we? Clearly WE know that’s not the case - but really - what is it that makes us buy from FreshDirect, comment on Yelp, download all our movies, use Facebook on our iPhone (full disclosure: I own an n95, not an iPhone) and rely on Google and Wikipedia for truth? Are we programmed this way? Are the countless hours of Super Mario Brothers, Pong or You Don’t Know Jack and Metriod engraved in our psyche? Are we just hopeless sheep looking for a journey? Maybe. The smart marketers at Apple, JetBlue, Starbucks seem to think so.

But there’s another answer. One that has to do with SURPLUS. You know, SURPLUS. Idle time. The time you USED to spend watching Falcon Crest, Dallas, Saved by the Bell or Small Wonder. The time you used to spend watching Gilligan Fuck up the same rescue attempt week over week on the same island with the same cast, over, and over, and over again. It’s not your fault. You didn’t have a choice. Now you do. Now entertainment feels more like building a hobby, learning, interacting, communicating, connecting and reconnecting, playing and yes, even watching. Just all by our own rules. Our playing knows no boundaries - brands included.

These days there’s even more SURPLUS. You see - more technology creates more opportunity and curiosity. I think this is why we fill our time with all of these engaging forms for entertainment. We are occupying the SURPLUS.

This new time - “my time” - what are you doing with it for yourself? Marketers, what are you doing to fill it for your consumer? Product developers, how about you?

If you’re like most brands, not much.