Make it disappear: How marketers are winning your attention

Berlin, Germany - May 28, 2016: Apple iPhone 6s screen with social media applications Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Google, Youtube, Twitter, Vimeo, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Tumbl etc.
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Above: Apple iPhone 6s screen with various social media applications. Photo via iStockphoto.

By contributor Krista Meckelborg

I don’t know about you, but Snapchat has revolutionized the way I share my life on social media. Before Snapchat existed, how often did you post a stream of drunken selfies after a night out that likely wouldn’t have otherwise been seen by another set of eyes?

One of the biggest and best new ways marketers are attracting younger generations is through ephemeral marketing. Ephemeral means “lasting a very short time; short-lived; transitory.” Thus, ephemeral marketing is a means of introducing marketing content in a format where it can be temporary and short-lived.

Ephemeral content has been widely accepted by the modern society, particularly among Millennials. For example, Snapchat has captured the attention of consumers and marketers alike. It’s the biggest success story in ephemeral content to date.

Snapchat users can create up to 10-second “in-the-moment” videos and photos, and send them to friends or display them on their “Story” for up to 24 hours. People have praised Snapchat for being a casual, raw, personal, and “real” place for users to express themselves without having to deal with the content following them around for the rest of their lives. Recently, Instagram (owned by Facebook) released their own “Stories” feature to get on board with the fad.

Live video has also become a huge trend. With Periscope and Facebook Live, people can post videos entirely in real time. On both Periscope and Facebook Live, a recording of these videos can be accessed for up to 24 hours after the original live version for those who may have missed it.

Photos and videos aren’t the only ephemeral services available—ephemeral messaging apps like WeChat, Path Talk, and Wickr are on the rise as well. Prior to online and SMS messaging, people relied heavily on telephoning one another: the most ephemeral messaging of all. People don’t necessarily want their conversations to follow them forever. According to Pew Research Center in 2015, 41 percent of smartphone owners aged 18 to 29, and 17 percent of all adult smartphone owners use mobile apps that automatically delete their messages. This number is constantly increasing.

Why is this ephemeral content so appealing to today’s generation? Perhaps it’s due to the issue of clutter. Because there is so much information available out there about everything, it’s easy to feel as though you’re drowning in all of it. But if something is only instant and temporary, there is no fear of getting too caught up in it. That’s why so many people are drawn to short-lived content and media.

The real-time component of ephemeral content is also appealing because younger generations want immediate, on-demand information about what’s going on in the moment. Yes, people still hold on to old photos and digital memories and store them for ages. But when is the last time you took a look at one of the 250 photos you took in March of 2013 that you saved somewhere in a full external hard drive sitting in the basement? For many of us, there is just no sense in holding onto every selfie or bookmarking every valuable piece of online information, because it just adds up way too fast and new content is created on a daily basis. The more content created, the less people want to look at the old stuff. However, new content makes us crave more content. It’s a vicious cycle. So what does this mean for marketers?

The desire for ephemeral communications demonstrates that consumers are highly willing to devote their attention to a message or video, but only once and only for a brief moment, and then they want it to disappear. However, because there is so much content out there, content created by marketers needs to be worth consumers’ time and be relevant to the moment. Snapchat’s “Discover” feature is a great example of the type of ephemeral content desired. Discover is a place where articles from major publications are featured, but only for 24 hours before disappearing. It’s this type of temporary content that people desire.

Additionally, the leader in ephemeral content, Snapchat, has shown us that people want to see things “live”, in all of its raw, real glory. People are sick of fake everything–especially fake marketing. Live content makes everything seem more real. It’s also unpredictable, which makes it far more exciting to viewers. Anything can happen when things are live. Live video especially is a great way of marketing to a younger target market.

Ephemeral marketing is definitely the way of the immediate and near future, but it’s hard to say if this trend will last forever. Maybe people will grow more sentimental as time goes on, and the next generations will revert back to permanent content, just like when people went from the disappearing communication method of telephones to a desire to publish permanent information online when Facebook originally came about. Maybe it’s a never-ending cycle that marketers like myself will just have to follow around as time goes on. Until then, as a consumer, I’m going to keep using the face- swap and dog filters like there’s no tomorrow.