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Will Brands Ever Play Hard To Get?

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I [Seasonally Appropriate Verb] You: Firstborn's Elizabeth Entenman on why brands need to stop being like your clingy ex

Will Brands Ever Play Hard To Get?

“It looks like you’re at Store X. This is the song that’s playing there, and here’s a link to download it. Don’t forget to stock up on canned goods, because a storm is blowing through tonight. Scan this coupon at checkout for treats for your dog, Pearl. Store X is now following you.”

More and more, brands are bending over backwards to be everywhere for us. They love commitment, and they aren’t afraid who knows it. They’re the Squints to our Wendy Peffercorn, trying to win our hearts. Brands are always begging for likes and shares and retweeted proof that we re-pinned their Instagram pics to our tumblrs. And I’m exhausted for them.

The problem with all this pageantry is it makes brands seem needy. Their social pushes are, on a basic level, pleas for us to do business with them and attempts to increase figures in an Excel document. Sure, they want to keep us informed about new products and be the voice of the consumer, but at the end of the pun-filled day, they’re still pushing product. Even on Valentine’s Day.

“You’re sweet, Valentine!” “Happiness is you, Valentine!” “Valentine, you rock!” Brand messaging on February 14th has a lot in common with the cards kids hand out in elementary school: it tries too hard, it speaks to too broad an audience and it doesn’t mean a whole lot. In fact, those Valentine cards have a lot in common with brand messaging used year-round: it tries too hard, it speaks to too broad an audience and it doesn’t mean a whole lot. I’m sure the boring, stalker ex-girlfriend strategy has proven to work in some categories, but I think it’s worth a second look.

Status update: there’s value in playing hard to get. It adds a layer of mystery to your brand and leaves things to be desired. It makes genuinely interested customers seek you out and come to you. Playing hard to get is the difference between the Olympics’ #1yeartogo (countdown to London 2012) and a Subway commercial (Footlongs in your FACE, consumer!). It worked for Mr. Darcy, and it could work for you.

Somewhere along the way, social media strategy became synonymous with checking a calendar and slotting in holidays. Don’t get me wrong, it’s an important part of the job. But it’s only half of it. What many brands leave out is the part that connects those dots to something meaningful and useful for the consumer, which is why we end up receiving so many statuses playfully juxtaposing “like” and “love” on Valentine’s Day. Brands shouldn’t care if you celebrate a holiday by clicking share on their page, or even by using their product. Newsflash: if you sell fine foods, consumers won’t think it’s odd if you don’t wish them a Happy Halloween. If you sell home improvement equipment, maybe sit St. Patrick’s Day out; Father’s Day is just around the corner.

Here’s the truth: brands aren’t at my beck and call in the ways I need them to be. Dunkin’ Donuts, is your coffee gluten free? P.F. Changs, are you open on Thanksgiving? (That was an actual question I had and got cleared up on their Facebook page once. It was a weird year.) When a consumer chooses to interact with a brand, they shouldn’t be rewarded with endless pings about other things they didn’t inquire about. They should be served what they asked for, and catered to in the future. What should that future look like? I’m not sure yet, but I do know what it shouldn’t look like.

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