Bringing Fragmentation into Focus

May 15, 2024
By Olivia DuCharme

It takes just two and a half seconds of attention for a brand to make an impression. Easy enough, right? Not quite: over 85% of ads fall short of that threshold. That’s a tough stat, but it shouldn’t come as a shock that attention is hard to come by these days. We live in a culture of fragmentation. Think about it — all those social platforms, TV networks, and streaming services, each with their own abundance of text, photos, audio, and videos, catering to everything from viral trends to so-called subcultures. And that’s to say nothing of the metaverse.

Because many of our jobs involve the pursuit of attention, we may feel pressured to tackle every trend and produce for every platform. But that’s a task as Sisyphean as rolling a boulder up a hill, especially since 42% of people expect to use more social networks in 2024, including Instagram competitor TikTok Notes. Amidst all these fragments, how are we, as agencies, brands, and creatives, supposed to stand out? (We’ll give you a hint: not by keeping up for the sake of keeping up — because that always leads to selling out.)

Perhaps the answer lies in kintsugi, a centuries-old Japanese art form that restores fragmented pottery with metallic lacquer. Like many artisanal traditions, kintsugi is both a practice and philosophy, specifically one that views breakage as beauty: “not only is there no attempt to hide the damage, but the repair is literally illuminated” with luxurious metals. Just as kintsugi transforms fractured pottery into art, embracing our culture of fragmentation allows us to create authentic experiences that resonate with our audiences — so long as we remember that we’re the golden glue holding it all together. In other words, if we stop viewing fragmentation as a problem and start treating it as an opportunity to show who we are, we discover our ability to put the pieces together and create something beautiful.

Example of Kintsugi, a centuries-old Japanese art form that restores fragmented pottery with metallic lacquer.

Drawing inspiration from kintsugi, we can assemble an online presence like repairing fractured pottery, where each fragment — social platforms, content types, audience preferences, and emerging trends — contributes to a greater whole. Take, for instance, Duolingo, the language-learning app known for its strong social media presence. What makes its carousel mocking Jeremy Allen White’s Calvin Klein ads more than a fleeting attention-grab during awards season, or their TikTok spoofing musical theater on ice more than a strange fever dream? A brand identity so strong it could smack you with its green wing. Eccentric, ostentatious, irreverent, and oftentimes absurd, Duolingo is very clear about who it is: a brand all about the fun. Whether it’s a photo alluding to a cultural moment or a music video using elaborate special effects, every Duolingo post communicates that learning a language is fun — and keeps audiences coming back for more.

To move beyond attention-grabbing and into making a lasting impression, lace up your skates and grab a microphone. Just kidding. But have a voice, at least. Like the golden lacquer that unifies and beautifies fractured pottery, a brand identity is what bonds content across platforms into a cohesive and compelling story. When people know who we are and what we stand for, nothing is just a piece of content — it’s all intentional.

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