The pleasure of passivity

Sit back…and relax.

In today’s world of marketing and advertising, we do something very strange.

We consistently underrate the pleasure of passivity, and overestimate the value of exchange, engagement or activity — both in terms of enjoyment, and (therefore) in terms of effectiveness.

We do this counter to almost all the evidence of our daily lives — evidence that shows that passivity is a desirable state.

The experiences we recognise as among the most pleasurable and valuable to us as individuals and as a society are often the most passive.

When it comes to great, era-defining art, we rate ‘traditional’ theatre above ‘interactive’ pantomime.

We would most of us prefer to listen to music than be expected to stand up and sing.

We love to sit inert and watch moving images parade before us — be it in the cinema, on the TV or on YouTube. We choose to do it for hours and hours a day — above and beyond any other single optional activity.

We enjoy chit-chat, sure, but if we want to really be moved, educated or entertained, we turn to a book, and allow ourselves to sink into someone else’s world, a world where they dictate the terms and we need only to move our eyes from line to line. (Ok, ok. ‘Choose your own adventure’ books are fantastic, but we know deep down they’re not great literature.) And being read to, by a great reader… is there anything more delicious?

(Plus, I know I’d rather get a massage than give one.)

There is great pleasure in doing nothing — in being enraptured, captivated. There is great pleasure in being done to, and not in being the doer.

Advertising and marketing which asks nothing of us in return — no commenting, no liking, no sharing, no hashtagging or uploading or tagging or regramming and no engagement-driving — should not be looked down on as outdated or failing to cater to its audience’s needs and wants, as it so frequently is.

Rather, such experiences — this advertising (with the great and crucial caveat that it must be good/beautiful/entertaining/funny/captivating in some way) — should be feted as delivering precisely what we want, which is, so much more often than we seem to be willing to admit, precisely to be a passive receptacle for something.

The pleasure and enjoyment is in the passivity, and the role of advertising is to ensure that our brand is associated with that enjoyment.