The 1968 classic film Powers of Ten directed by Charles and Ray Eames depicts the relative scale of the Universe in factors of ten. Every ten seconds we view the starting point from ten times farther out until the galaxy appears as a speck of light, following this, the camera moves inward, with ten times more magnification every ten seconds. Not only is the cinematography beautiful and technically brilliant, the film offers valuable insight that can be applied to all aspects of our life and society.
How is this film relevant you ask?
As Tim Brown notes, “it is a wonderful reminder of one of the most important principles in design – reframing the question.” In the digital age, the need for marketers to be creative is more important than ever. We live in an era where consumers are constantly bombarded by advertising messages and marketers from every direction are vying for consumers’ attention. To exacerbate the issue, our attention span has been reduced to a mere 9 seconds. Given this cultural landscape, in order to attract the attention of consumers, you must be doing something different as a marketer, something unique that sets you apart from your competitors. This requires a high degree of creativity. According to the principles of “Design Thinking” by Tim Brown, creativity needs to be stimulated. Creativity does not happen in a vacuum; rather, creativity is born from a process, which involves reframing the issue at hand in several different ways. The film reaffirms this ideology. As Tim Brown eloquently notes in response to the film: “Often the quickest route to new insight is to take a step back and look at the problem from a broader context, or to take a step closer and look at it in more detail.” If you want a creative solution to an issue, this requires readjusting your perspective by either taking a step back and seeing the bigger picture or zooming in and understanding the obscure details. For example, as big data continues to transform the digital marketing landscape, marketers need to be able to zoom in and out, digging deep in to the data to extract meaning from it, and taking a step back to see how the data fits into the bigger picture.
- Nobody cares about your products (except you): People ultimately care about themselves and their problems. When it comes to marketing your brand, think beyond the product. Noone else really cares about your product so you have to create something that offers value to the consumer. Value can take the form of entertainment, education or information. Whatever it is, give consumers a reason to care.
- No coercion required: People rather be “pulled” than “pushed”. Being assertive in your approach to selling your brand will only chase people away, draw people in by offering inherently valuable content.
- Lose control: The information you create online must be free. This means, relinquishing all control and letting nature run its course.
- Put down roots: If you want your ideas to spread in the digital world, you need to be rooted in the digital world. You need to have an active presence where you want your ideas to circulate.
- Create triggers that encourage people to share: Shareable content is content that is interesting, valuable or entertaining. You have to give people reason to share what you have published.
- Point the world to your virtual doorstep: If you are creative and create culturally relevant, entertaining, valuable or interesting content, an online rave is bound to ensue.
According to David Meerman Scott, “you need to know that success requires a far different approach than what you’re likely doing now. Many of the easy techniques for triggering a World Wive Rave are the exact opposite of what you’ve learned on the job or have been taught in school”. The insight presented in the Powers of Ten reinforces this view. In order to create a World Wide Rave, marketers should go against the grain and embrace “thinking outside the box”. Marketers do not need to adhere to the norms and status quo. To stand out in the crowd, you don’t need to mimic your competitors; you should be doing something entirely different to get people talking. Moreover, to excel in the midst of tough competition, there is great value in embracing an alternate perspective and zooming in to really understand the psyche of consumers. Contrary to popular belief, marketers should think like consumers. In addition to focusing on detail, marketers should also take a step back to understand how everything fits into place. Effective marketers don’t focus purely on the product itself; effective marketers understand how their products fit into the bigger picture. I believe great marketing involves selling a lifestyle and emotions rather than just a product in isolation. Consider Harley Davidson for example. They have an extremely loyal customer base, so much so that people tattoo the brand’s logo onto their bodies. The major reason for their success is the way in which they have built an entire community, culture and lifestyle around their brand. Through their Harley Davidson merchandise, online communities, and clubs, Harley Davidson has built a strong culture and community for its consumers. For many, owning a Harley-Davidson motorcycle is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. It enables them to own a piece of history and grants them access to belonging to an elite click. Harley-Davidson is not just a motorcycle; it is a way of life.
The underlying message of this film can also be applied to my life as a student. As a Masters student of Marketing, part time Intern and freelance photographer, I often feel overwhelmed by stress because I place too much pressure on myself to pursue perfection in all aspects of my life. However, as Sheryl Sandberg notes: “done is better than perfect”. My preoccupation with perfection, whether it be crafting the perfect sentence or making sure my powerpoint looks flawless, ultimately undermines my efficiency and predisposes me to feel unnecessary stress. As David Burns eloquently said: “the pursuit of perfection is arguably the surest way to undermine happiness and productivity”. I tend to focus on and fret over trivial details that in the big scheme of things, don’t matter too much. It is useful to apply the lessons learnt in the film, there is great value in taking a step back once in a while. For example, in a year’s time, my GPA will be irrelevant, and most probably forgotten. Achieving good grades is undoubtedly important but ultimately, education is not defined by good grades – it’s about learning, proactive thinking and questioning.
Thus, the film provides a valuable framework for thinking that can be aptly applied to all aspects of our life and society. Whether it be marketing or our personal life, it is important to remember that everything is relative and there are many ways to frame an issue. Moreover, it is important that we adjust our perspective from time to time; lets take a step back to understand the bigger picture and take a step forward to understand those obscure details that are often overlooked.