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Ideas, Opinion, Uncategorized

Cultural Latency – Easy Come, Easy Go

A 2009 study has found that the fall of an item’s popularity mirrors its rise to popularity, so that items that become popular faster also die out faster, which is demonstrated by name trends. Image caption: Berger and Le Mens. ©2009 PNAS

It seems like everything is becoming more disposable these days. As we become more connected and have always on access to content that we can engage with and distribute in real time, what effect does this have on the life cycle of content?

Previously creating content was the domain of specialists and distributing it was restricted to those with money and corporate backing through well established networks. Mail was delivered in days rather than seconds and news content was printed and delivered to your door. Even music took time to distribute through retail outlets on vinyl or CD. Now just about anyone with a PC and an internet connection can create and rapidly share their ideas and content. I was reading over Faris Yakob’s post in which he raised an interesting point about what he termed Cultural Latency, in that there is a correlation between

“the amount of time it takes to distribute something, and the amount of time it takes for that thing to have an effect, and consequently the amount of time that thing stays relevant and interesting.”

Essentially research has found evidence to back up the saying, easy come, easy go. A 2009 study found that a fall of an item’s popularity seems to mirror that of it’s rise (see graph above). They discovered this in studying the popularity of names in France & US over the last 100 years. They hypothesize that whilst there is no mathematical reason behind this phenomenon, it is driven by people’s beliefs creating the reality, probably stemming from the fact that it gets to a point where people don’t like to be thought to follow the mainstream. It is an example of the interrelationship of how psychological processes can shape culture and that culture can shape thought processes.

Now that digital technology is reducing the friction points within any given distribution system, it is making them more efficient and is causing this effect to become quite evident in the life span of content. Content can spread and become popular faster then ever before, I guess we’d call this “going viral”. This has the effect of creating much faster feedback loops, information is delivered and consumed faster, which triggers more effects in quick succession. This rapid rise has the flow on effect of potentially leading to much faster cultural decay. Just take music for example, you can see bands come from nowhere with a manufactured hit then just as quickly disappear off the radar.

So what does this all mean? It certainly raises the case for slow and steady organic growth. Perhaps it’s not always better to go after a meteoric rise to fame but to consider the option of growing at a slower pace. Obviously this would depend on the content or objectives behind the strategy of the campaign but an interesting point to consider when considering a brand or content strategy.



About Alex Leece

Integrated Retail Advertising & Digital Specialist • Over 7 years experience in award winning globally networked agencies & media companies. • Experienced with large retail clients both local & global from automotive to banks, telco’s, fashion department stores, e-commerce & supermarkets. • Unique focus on technology & data's impact on creative & strategy that builds brands & drives sales. • Digital specialist with over 5 years experience driving the digitally enabled customer experience.


One thought on “Cultural Latency – Easy Come, Easy Go

  1. This seems similar to internet memes that become extremely popular like wildfire and then a relatively short time later, even just months later, people are sick of hearing or seeing it. Like how people used to tell jokes about taking an arrow to the knee, but then that joke took an arrow to the knee, all within just the past few months. Now the only way to tell such a joke is like I just did and even that’s getting old.

    The idea of maybe gradually building popularity/recognition instead of suddenly shocking people into awareness and acceptance of something with a burst of information in order to have more staying power is interesting.

    Posted by cavepainter | February 27, 2012, 7:02 pm

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