Hunting for the Human Touch

NBC talked to Nancy after the presidential debates Sunday night. She wasn't a spinner, expert, or politician -- just Nancy, everyday American, plucked to provide her commentary on the Clinton-Dole discussion.During the 90-minute debate, she kept her hands on a special dial attached to a gadget used to track her response to what the candidates said.The point?NBC and Newsweek, co-sponsors of the dial-tracking, said it was another way of gauging the effectiveness of the debaters on undecided "real people." But moreover, take it as part of a larger trend: searching for the human touch. Have you felt it yet? They want you to want them. Wading through communications clutter, today's media face tougher obstacles as they clear the channel between message and messenger.Speechwriters have always looked for ways to clear that channel. One technique, the Goodykoontz rule, requires speakers to work the name of an audience member into their speeches. Used in the recent presidential debate, the rule supposedly makes the audience feel closer to the speaker.The Richmond Times-Dispatch in Richmond, Virginia, started an "Ask the Warners" campaign -- allowing readers to submit their own questions to the Virginia senatorial candidates. WTVR TV-6, also in Richmond, recently tried leaving open the microphones of anchors when the newschannel broke for commercials - giving viewers a supposed inside track into their more informal, personal sides as they happy-chatted together.In theater, a trend stops trying to hide the set-changing process sending stagehands to their jobs sometimes while the lights are up. Theatergoers get a glimpse behind the scenes.It's workingAs media become more fragmented and far away from their intended audiences, the human touch has become more important.And it's working, according to Diane Cook-Tench, director of Virginia Commonwealth University's Ad Center."It's crossed over into advertising as well," she said, into a trend called "relationship marketing."Because consumers are subjected to such a high volume of advertising, she said, "I think people are tired of the same old advertising messages."Companies, therefore, need to find new ways to connect with consumers. She pointed to Chrysler Co., which held a "Camp Jeep" in the Rockies. There, new Jeep owners could fish, hike, ride mountain bikes, take off-road driving classes and attend a Sheryl Crow concert."The goal was to become a sponsor of a lifestyle without becoming obtrusive about it," she said.Cook-Tench said all forms of media must strive to be more personal - hitting home, touching the heart.And with the increasing number of television channels, the expansion of desktop publishing and special interest group publications, she said, "I think it's going to demand messages that really do touch people."

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