Marketing Communications from the Panopticon

Will you look up the hashtag, or just look at it?

In part three of De Certeau's The Practice of Everyday Life, we are given an intimate look into the philosophies of how we interact with the city and the affect space has on our movements. Quoting De Certeau, "Walking affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects, etc., the tracjectories it "speaks" (De Certeau, p99). To walk amongst the city is to truly understand the city as it is more than observing, it is actively engaging. We can take this theory and apply it to Lefebvre's concept of the two forms of rhythms, these being the linear and cyclical. As the cyclical rhythm is the pattern of days, nights and seasons, the linear rhythm is when we go to school, when we go to work (Cronin, p624), or general patterns and rhythms of our everyday lives.

Theoretically sound placement? Or just a high traffic area?

If we combine De Certeau's theory and Lefebvre's concepts, we can arrive at an understanding of where and when to place marketing communications in the city. Companies such as POSTAR have been utilising city mapping techniques in order to gain insights on optimal billboard placement (Cronin, p622) for maximising exposure of relevant communications. These techniques of turning movement into patterns would appear to fit the criteria of understanding how the city is used and the patterns of its usage, so wouldn't this be the perfect formula for successful marketing communications?

According to Cronin, billboard advertisements have incredibly low recall ability (Cronin, p626). The research shows that consumers can probably remember the advertisements, but when it came to matching the brands with the ads, the results were "poor" (Cronin, p626). It seemed like billboard advertisement companies figured out a sound formula for understanding where their target market is going to be and when. So if they are targeting the right people at the right time, why is recall and actual engagement with these advertisements so low?

De Certeau goes in depth to describe the World Trade Centre, it's sheer magnitude of height, how it allows you to have a view of the city like no other (De Certeau, p92). This view allows you to see what those walking cannot see. You can see streets coming up before pedestrians can, you can anticipate when they are going to stop, and you can see people as a collective whole. De Certeau states how being in this "Solar eye, looking down like a god" (De Certeau p92) allows you to "read" (De Certeau, p92) the city. Ultimately it gives you a higher perspective, but the main point that De Certeau is trying to drive, is that having this higher perspective, is not equal to having higher knowledge. It gives you a perspective that allows you to read, but not listen. You are in the panopticon, a false sense of being able to see and know all. 

Can you trust that the billboard advertising agency you are choosing to grow your brand has actually walked the city? Or have they merely observed from the panopticon? Cronin states that there is no guarantee that being noticeable and visible will give viewers of these ads any sense of engagement with your product or brand (Cronin, p623) . As cities continue to harbour advertisements all competing for your share of mind, this merely adds to the "noise" of the city. In Crawford's opinion piece, The Cost of Paying Attention, he refers to attention as a resource in which we only have so much of, and that repeatedly witnessing advertisements in the public space can create so much "noise", it can drive you to anger (Crawford). The amount of noise around us has lead silence to become a commodity that can be bought and sold, and people are buying (Crawford).

From above you cannot listen, you cannot hear the noise.

To walk the streets and listen to the city that De Certeau philosophised is the key to marketing and communicating in the space you reside without adding to noise, while also engaging your target market. It is going to take more than mapping and understanding behaviour and converting your demographics into numbers, figures and patterns. Remove yourself from the panopticon and walk amongst us, just like everyone else, to be able to sell to everyone else. 




Crawford M, The Cost of Paying Attention, The New York Times, Accessed March 9 2016, Available Online:

Cronin A, Advertising and the metabolism of the city: urban space, commodity and rhythms, Environment and Planning D:, Society and Space, volume 24, pp615-632, 2006

De Certeau M, The Practice of Everyday Life, University of California Press, London. 1984