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A collection of thoughts, opinions and analysis on the insights, tech & marketing topics that inspire me.

  • Writer's pictureChris Martin

Slowing Down: Could Slow Programming Become an Effective Marketing Tool?

Yesterday evening, after a particularly busy day at the office, I was listening to Radio 4's Feedback on my commute home. And there was one segment that caught my interest - an exploration of the movement 'slow programming'.

Admittedly, this was not the first I had heard of slow programming. But it was the first time that I really paid attention. Perhaps it had caught me at the right time, or perhaps it was because this was the first time that I had actually experienced a piece of slow programming. Whatever the reason, I did not dismiss it as I had previously.

So, what exactly is slow programming? Well, it depends on the medium - but in the case of radio, reporter Rebecca Pearce describes it as:

A focus on ambient noise and incidental sound, taking time with an idea and stretching it out.

Slow radio pioneer Thomas Hellum explains that the programmes which he produces (for TV and radio) appeal to audiences for two primary reasons: (1) they provide a reflective, relaxed space free from the clutter of the modern world, and (2) the shows act as a compelling storytelling mechanism.

One television show, produced for Norweigen audiences and now available worldwide on Netflix, focuses on the landscapes and scenery captured on a journey through forests and mountains between Bergen and Oslo.

But Hellum, reminds us that the interest in this show is actually in its story. The audience constantly wonder what could be behind the next mountain, or on the other side of the next tunnel. Somewhat morbidly, Hellum admits that there is usually nothing... but there might be next time - drawing a stark comparison with life itself.

Watch Hellum explain the psychology behind the slow programming revolution in his own words during a 2014 TEDx Talk at Arendel below.

Slow Programming Principles in Marketing

But what does this bizarre cultural phenomenon have to do with marketing? The connection arose in my mind when I realised how the experience of listening to slow radio was making me feel. Unlike the vast majority of media, which aims to excite or engage - slow radio did not have such an effect. Instead, I felt grateful.

Gratefulness to a piece of media may seem odd... but let me explain.

15 minutes of slow radio provided me a chance to reflect and unwind. The thoughts that had been dogging me throughout the day could have a fair chance to breathe. I was able to think with clarity; something that no other media provided. But more importantly, it did not ask for anything in return. I wasn't asked to engage with the media online, to comment, to provide feedback or to tune in next week.

Slow programming provides a rare media backdrop that asked for nothing in return.

In a time where consumers are asked to constantly subscribe, to engage or to otherwise interact with the media - the relentless vying for attention can become exhausting. But slow radio didn't do this. Instead I found myself wanting to return to it - not because it had coerced me to through cliffhangers or half-hearted promises, but because I wanted to.

Ultimately, that single exposure to a slow radio programme has been more memorable, both mentally and emotionally, than every single other piece of media I consumed that day.

Turning Ideas into Marketing Reality

Of course, it is easy to make this observation. What is harder is to turn it into a practical marketing tool, especially when it flies in the face of conventional marketing wisdom.

While it has always existed, the digital era has made many marketers obsess more than ever over the measurement of engagement and ROI. While I certainly don't doubt the importance of these metrics, they are meaningless in the world of slow programming - which makes trying it a risk.

But even when we take that out of the equation - what am I proposing anyway? To be honest, I don't have a clear idea of how slow programming can most effectively be used by brands. But I do have suggestions:

  1. Create non-branded reflective spaces for customers within stores/ buildings that provide uninterrupted time to think over high value purchases & decisions

  2. Sponsor slow programming, or create it with block purchases of airtime - providing audiences relief from a constant barrage of advertisements

  3. Get creative with digital integration of slow programming into websites and microsites to build ambient experiences

  4. Experiment with the integration of slow programming into existing long form visual and audio content

Ultimately, this is new territory. There is no set path to walk. Marketers must evaluate for themselves whether slow programming could fit with their brand and target audience. If adopted, slow programming could spark an advertising revolution - similar to Geico's "unskippable" pre-roll advertising - designed to ensure viewers couldn't miss the message - except in reverse.

However, whether a brand decides that slow programming is a useful tool or not, I hope that the decision is taken on the merits of the tool & its target audience fit - rather than its current lack of effective measurement technique.

My concluding point: brands must consider marketing tools that have the capacity to build long term audience relationships, even if there is no immediate result or measurement capability.

Relationships are the lifeblood of business - and an obsession with measurement threatens to erode them.

But this is, of course, just one opinion. I'd love to hear whether you think slow programming could become a useful marketing tool or not. Leave a comment below to let me know (or don't - just reflect if you would rather).

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