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Awareness is increasingly defined by the digital age. And it’s about as slippery as searching for the meaning of life. Anyway, here’s an attempt to define it. If our actions, behaviours and choices influence how we perceive and experience the world around us, awareness is the meaning we give to events, objects, people, situations – and sometimes brands.

It’s like recognising an old face – the brain’s filing cabinet and awareness ‘filter’ working together. Brands want to tap into this recognition, and this battle for our attention is reshaping what we’re aware of and for how long.

Advertising minus awareness
Advertising guru, David Ogilvy, saw the future back in 1963. A master of the counter-intuitive, he said: “A good advertisement is one which sells the product without drawing attention to itself.”*

In other words, advertising plays with our perception in sophisticated ways. And it has to, because as soon as we detect being ‘sold to’ or ‘marketed at’, down come the shutters. We walk on by.

Today, this is a problem for brands competing for headspace in a world crammed with messaging. It’s a scenario perfectly summed up by Digitas’ executive creative director, Sav Evangelou, who describes his job on Twitter as: “I humbly try to create reasons for brands to play a role in people’s lives.”

How shallow can we go?
The feeling of being bombarded with messages is due to the zetabytes of information and knowledge we’re creating and sharing. Way more than ever before. And these countless ‘events’ distract and interrupt our daily lives.

Nicholas Carr debates the effects in his book, The Shallows: How the Internet is Changing the Way We Think, Read and Remember. He argues that digital technologies are literally re-wiring our brains. They’re changing the ways we live and communicate, remember and socialise.

It’s a reminder of how the virtual world can influence and redefine meaning. However, in the book Born Digital: Understanding the First Generation of Digital Natives by John Palfrey and Urs Gasser, they found little evidence that, “digital natives are learning less than their grandparents did, or that they are more superficial in their learning”.

Now, it’s personal
We’ve reached a point when brands are analysing data to personalise customer experience and target customers at an individual level. For example, at one time Amazon reckoned that 30% of its revenue came from its analytics recommendation engine. Clearly, this clever algorhythm told a ‘what other people bought’ story that many bought into.

While we might be more susceptible to shallow distractions, and our awareness antennae are working overtime, if advertising is personal, relevant and meaningful, then we’re all ears.

So as marketers, it’s our job to make sure that we tell stories with clarity, creativity and in ways that help our clients stand out from all the noise of modern life. It’s a case of get noticed or get lost.