The La La Land effect: how brands can appeal to our need for escapism

Escapism has long been identified as one of the primary functions of media consumption. Uses and gratifications theory argues that audiences actively use media for their own gratification and pleasure, rather than passively consuming the messages it articulates.

Closely linked to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, it is understood that audiences consume media for a variety of reasons, from gaining information to the desire to escape from the reality of day to day life. From dramatic soap operas to you-can-be-anything-you-want-to-be reality TV, high action films to glossy lifestyle shows, it is easy to see that escapism is well entrenched in the TV and film industries.

But if one of the primary reasons people engage with media is as a means of escapism, how can this be capitalised upon for marketers of a product or service? It can be argued there are two sides to the escapism coin: escapism through reimagining, which is mainly seen in social media marketing, and the concept of “digital detox”, which seeks experiences as a form of escapism. Very different in nature, each requires a different response from brands, and so here are two simple ways brands can address each of their consumer’s needs.

1- Escapism through online re-imagination – rethinking platforms

In a recent feature article for Campaign LiveNicola Kemp argued that it has never been easier for digital consumers to act out their escapist impulses. She suggests ‘from the growth of augmented worlds and digital spaces to immersive experiences, this desire to pursue new avenues of self-expression and self-actualisation shows no sign of abating.’

Kemp points to the success of La La Land and other nostalgic musical films (Mamma Mia 2, anyone?) as indicative of this form of escapism and quotes Neil Hughston, chief executive of London-based agency Duke, who suggests brands must therefore be bolder in their interactions with consumers.

One way brands can foster escapist marketing, without breaking the bank, is to consider the social media platform your brand engages with. Arguing that, for the young generation, Facebook is in fact seen as little more than reality played out in the digital sphere, Kemp sees the success of platforms like Instagram, Pinterest and Tumblr as suggestive of consumer’s desire for alternative brand engagement.  With recent reports showing that Instagram delivers almost four times more engagement than Facebook, by shifting to these platforms brands can buy into this desire for glossy content and opportunities for self-reimagining.

2- Digital detox – experiential brand offerings

Running in tandem with the rise of Instagram-style social media, and yet in many ways diametrically opposed to this trend, is the concept of “digital detox”. The term has become something of a buzz word in the last few years, and is generally understood to be a period of time in which we unplug from our multitude of devices and disconnect from the internet. FastCompany argued in 2015 that scientific research into the benefits of switching off from digital found ‘life changing’ results, including the chance to make more meaningful friendships, better posture, improved memory and better sleep.

With such impressive results, it is perhaps little wonder that more and more of us are turning towards the digital detox, not necessarily as a way of life but rather as something to be undertaken periodically. But where does this leave brands who rely on digital as their primary form of interaction with consumers?

Marketing Week argues that rather than see this as a threat, digital detox in fact ‘gives brands an opportunity to connect with [consumers] in a more meaningful way’ by providing experiential marketing. A good example of this is Innocent’s Unplugged festival, which for the previous two years has offered fans of the brand a ‘weekend off the grid to escape their busy, stressful city lives where they are constantly connected to friends, email and overloaded with information.’ Aiming to provide a ‘wholesome experience’ in line with the brand’s values of ‘helping people live well and die old’ (while also harking back to the company’s roots as a pop-up smoothie stall at music festivals) Innocent have shown that brands can embrace the escapism trend that the digital detox epitomises.

Although both markedly different in their execution, both the glossy world of Instagram and the paired-back nature of the digital detox trace their roots to the need for escapism in our busy and yet often routine lives. Whichever form of escapism you identify as most relevant to your consumers, there are simple and cost-effective ways you can ensure that your brand fulfils their needs and maintains that all important trust and connection.

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