The Nonsense of Reach

This is me in NYC, photographed by Vincent Van Grootel while eating a slice of pizza

Read this if you are in marketing or advertising and you think big about reach.

I’m in New York for business, and I gratefully seize the opportunity to visit Advertising Week. This is my third time here and I have nothing but good memories about this festival. There’s a highly diverse range of speakers, the quality is high, and there are no awards ceremonies, which ensures that people aren’t looking back, but looking ahead. And that’s the way it should be. This year, too, there’s an eye-opener. Just not a very positive one.

The industry is in a bad way. Crises have wreaked havoc, cut-throat competition is showing up unexpectedly, but all in all, the communication industry has managed to put up a brave fight. Until now. Here in New York, it’s striking that the sector’s foundation, conveying a story, has been affected. From 26 through 30 September, more than 400 professionals are here to speak about their trade. What’s remarkable is that everyone is coming up with the exact same spiel, whether they’re in advertising, PR, digital, marketing, branding, or communications. They’re all getting under each other’s feet and stumbling over the same — mostly contentless — marketing terms. I could give you a list, but I think you know which ones I mean. If you were to jot down all of those twenty-dollar words in two different columns titled “Reach” and “Content”, you’d see that almost all of them belong in that first column: Reach. Even everything that’s to do with the much-hyped “content” marketing is all about reach and not about content, even though its name would have us think otherwise.

Everything is about reach and that’s a problem. In a time when you can reach anyone anywhere and anytime, this cry for attention is even becoming a little bit pathetic. The classic sender-receiver model becomes worthless when there are too many senders who are all out to reach the same receiver. All you’re left with is noise. And what do agencies do? Using views, clicks, and shares, and through a profusion of content, an artificial form of reach is generated. Total nonsense, of course. What good does it do you to reach someone who won’t listen to your story? Reach without impact is a waste. That’s why more and more brands are calling on “makers” for actually impactful reach. You’ll no doubt have heard of YouTube creator Casey Neistat or some of his fellow Internet heroes. But who’s even more interesting is Radha Agrawel, co-founder of Daybreaker. Her Twitter bio is a splendidly clear summary of what she’s telling us from the Advertising Week stage: “Experience is the new luxury. Community is happiness. This is all I think about.

“Reach without impact = waste”

The world over, Daybreaker hosts exclusive, alcohol-free parties on weekdays from 6 until 9 am, before people leave for work. It’s a delight to hear Radha Agrawel talk about how to build a real community of people sharing intense experiences both on- and offline. The Daybreaker events are cleverly put together. Nothing is left to chance during the preparation and follow-up stages. Agrawel treats her fans with so much care, love, and respect that you’d think this could never turn a profit. Think again. For example, Nike boasts a structural cooperation with Daybreaker that’s to their mutual benefit.

When Nike’s creative director and Daybreaker’s creative director sit down together and pick each other’s brains, great things happen. At the same time, Agrawel acts as a curator for her community, which only gets to see the commercial messages that she has selected. Nike follows her because they understand how to tell a story today: by preferring impact over reach. And the agencies? They’re watching from the sidelines hoping they’ll be invited to the next Daybreaker party.

Daybreaker & Nike