The Dark Side of Creating Memories

The rush to buy “experiences” did not last long. In my part of the world, it was only two months from the time when the world fully opened for commerce again until people started to grow wary of the “experiences” they were being sold.

Part of this can be blamed on the sheer repetition in the advertising. After two years spent mostly at home, advertisers had heard that consumers were looking to buy “experiences.” The advertising creatives did not have to know what that word meant to know that they had to chase that trend. But after seeing everything from a microwave-based restaurant to a heart failure medication promoted using the now-dreaded “making memories” phrase, you can’t fault consumers for screaming at the screen, “I have memories already!”

The objection goes deeper than a matter of phrasing. The person who decides in advance that something will be memorable, an experience valuable in the way it is set apart from daily life, is engaging in a form of manipulation. This is the case whether they are doing the planning for a group of people or only for themselves. The truth is, regardless of the level of planning, you never know in advance what will stand out and be remembered. Those who try to buy memories for others are essentially expecting to guilt-trip a group of people into treating an event as memorable because of how much money it cost. The artificial expectation and the tension that goes with it pretty well wipe away any possibility of real memories. And that goes double if you are splurging on yourself in the hope that it will shock you out of whatever funk you are in.

People instinctively resist being manipulated, and so the new resistance to being told to pay money and make memories does not surprise anyone. What is surprising, though, is how fast it happened. I can’t think of another cultural marketing concept that died faster than this one.

Maybe advertisers, knowing that they were selling into a narrow window of opportunity, hit it as hard as they could and wore it out faster that it would have on its own. Or maybe it was the consumers who, after paying for two or three “memories” and being disappointed each time, were not ready to try again. For some, maybe it is simply that they got the experiences they were seeking and don’t feel the need to go looking for more.

Whatever the story, consumers are holding on to their money, a little more reluctant than usual to buy either goods or experiences. Experience marketing will come back in another form, and when it does, it will have to show more nuance. What kind of experience are consumers looking for? Is it peace? Rejuvenation? Validation? Novelty? Escape? Growth? Connection? Trance? Not every consumer is looking for the same thing, so how can marketers promise something more specific, then consistently deliver it in a packaged, mass-produced fashion?

It is a tougher challenge than it appeared two months ago.

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