Media, marketing and meaningful travel – Part 2

by Steve Brock on October 3, 2011

 Last time we looked at the idea of a media fast as a means of dealing with all the marketing impressions that assault us daily. Now let’s explore another approach I find particularly useful while traveling, especially on a business trip.

I’ll call this a reverse fast. Here, I don’t flee from all the impressions but do the opposite: I pay more attention. You have to be selective, of course, or your brains will explode out your ears and eyes, a messy prospect.

If you limit what you notice, this can be an enlightening exercise. For example, instead of glossing over one of the large displays at an airport or ignoring the ads on the metro, I’ll actually read them. I’ll observe small things like the photography or the model’s expression, the tagline, font or the offer.

Part of it is professional curiosity since I work in marketing, but mostly it is to wonder what I might find within the things I normally ignore.

Even more than ads, I will occasionally make the conscious effort to pay better attention to my surroundings on a trip, particularly a business trip, where I normally am on autopilot, consumed with thoughts about work and the meetings I’m either going to or coming from.

In these moments of awareness, I’ll note the signage in the hotel, the way the light filters through the atrium at the client’s office, the loneliness in the voice of the rental car agent, or the variance of accents in overheard conversations.

On a recent business trip, two things stood out that would never have registered had I not been paying attention.

First, as the plane leaving home took off, I consciously recognized that I was flying. Flying. A wingless, heavier-than-air human being (over a hundred of us, actually) was soaring through the clouds 37,000 feet above the ground. Remarkable.

Stop and think about that the next time you’re on a flight. You will either be struck by the wonder of it or shrug and move on to more important considerations such as if they are still serving those little pretzel bags along with the beverages.

In a world filled with products and ads, sometimes appreciating something as simple as a soap dish can make all the difference...

Second, I noted small details about my hotel room from the way the A/C worked to the wallpaper patterns to the soap dish in the bathroom. In all my travels, I’ve never beheld a soap dish that drains so well. This one does so by having a sieve-like dish sitting on a mating bowl to catch the water, a perfect blend of form and function.

These were all small things that don’t seem to matter.

Only they do.

When we notice them.

The documentary, The Greatest Movie Ever Sold, which sparked this reflection, highlighted the downsides of product placement and, by extension, products themselves. It noted how marketers create the sense of need for these products and intentionally get us to feel badly if we don’t purchase them and possess them.

But products aren’t inherently bad (well, most of them…I’m still trying to figure out the raison d’etre of Velveeta). The problem is when they possess us rather than we possess them. And what I’m finding through paying attention to the details I normally ignore is that I don’t have to even possess them. As with the soap dish, I can acknowledge and even appreciate an object in passing, taking a brief moment to discern and enjoy the hidden beauty in its design or functionality.

I’ll admit, I don’t go out of my way to do this at home or even on pleasure trips like I should. Too many other distractions compete for my awareness. But on business trips, paying attention to the details has its own rewards. It makes what is otherwise a blur of business and pure logistics into something more.

Perhaps even something of wonder.

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If you haven’t already, view Part 1 of Media, Marketing and Meaningful Travel.

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