Why can a fifteenth century word tell us everything about modern marketing?




  1. Proximity; nearness.
  2. Kinship.
  3. Similarity in nature.

Propinquity is a funny old word, derived from the Latin propinquitas. As you can see it means proximity, nearness, kinship, or similarity in nature (“like-attracts-like”).

In social psychology, propinquity is one of the main factors leading to interpersonal attraction. It refers to the physical, or psychological, proximity between people.

Two people living on the same floor of a building, for example, have a higher propinquity than those living on different floors, just as two people with similar political beliefs possess a higher propinquity than those whose beliefs strongly differ.

The propinquity effect is the tendency for people to enter into relationships based upon their level of propinquity. I.e. It is more likely that you may end up in a relationship with someone that you see often, more likely again if you share certain interests etc.

Obama poster

It is why this poster worked so well for Obama in the recent US Presidential election, in Detroit. And, why these posters on UK Motorways, situated just before service stations have been proven to reduce accidents.

Tiredness can kill

Super, I hear you say, but what has it got to do with modern marketing?

Well. Simply. Everything.

Propinquity is all about “super-relevancy”. The chances of a brand entering into a relationship with a consumer are heightened (more propinquitous) when brand and consumer interact a lot, at the perfect time, in the perfect place, in the perfect context.

Modern media technologies allow us to create far, far more propinquity than has ever been allowed before.

Take a simple before and after example.

In the past one may have chosen to advertise Guinness, using a rugby themed ad, on the television, targeting men aged 18-44, on a Friday night, the day before a rugby international weekend. This qualified as “propinquitous” in those days. We had got “close” to the consumer (Men 18-34) with relevant copy, near the day when the context might be seen to be favourable (Friday before the international rugby game).

Pint of Guinness

Now, Guinness can target rugby fans (why target people uninterested in rugby?), by their country of allegiance (sort of important), at any time leading up to the game itself, or indeed at half-time if one likes, and by using social media one can have your message delivered to our intended target by one of their best friends (what could build kinship more?). You can also vary the creative message extensively to give yourself the very best chance of super-relevancy, for example targeting people receiving the message on mobile phones, with different copy from those receiving them on a PC/Mac.

So, we can see that modern marketing media can add a lot of value to our “propinquitous” marketing efforts. There is surely little doubt that a video advertisement delivered as you go to the bar on match day, from a friend, tailored to your nationality, will be more effective than the generic advert you saw on the telly last night.

But, there are huge implications in using the new technologies, to greater effect.

  1. You need to really know your consumer, in real-time
    You may have a plan for your consumer across the year, where you may anticipate their passions, so that you can align with them. However, you also need to listen in real time and be able to react very fast to live topics and tactical opportunities. There was an old piece of work done by Millward Brown that showed that “tactical/topical” TV ads had a far greater than average awareness index (AI). This real time response can build propinquity, and drive results. What tactical and topical plans do you have in place?
  2. You need the right sort of creative idea that allows for propinquity
    Some creative ideas are “hard”. They do not encourage or facilitate participation or conversation. Often, these ideas are those that started life as a television script, but are hard to adapt and adopt across more “propinquitous” media. Have a look at some of the cases on our Vimeo channel and you’ll see some fine examples of “porous” ideas that allow the consumer, in, and the core of the brand, out. Does your creative really resonate across the media that can bring you a propinquity benefit?
  3. You need an agency ecosystem to deliver the ideas
    Let us take the Guinness example above. To deliver a campaign at the perfect time, perfect place, with the perfect context, may take up to five agencies that need to work together faultlessly. First, you need the right roster of agencies, motivated in the right way. Second, you need them to work as a team, and execute as one. Do you have the right players on your team, and are they working brilliantly together?
  4. You need a production set-up that can deliver thousands, upon thousands, of creative messages
    The standard marketing department and agency set-up has evolved slowly (or not at all) from those structures that made one or two big campaigns a year. And yet, now we have Facebook, Google+, YouTube, Twitter and so on, requiring fresh arresting content 24-7-365. And, our TV channels are massively fragmented but we expect the same TV ad to work effectively across some 200+ stations and environments! At Flock we produce “Content Calendars” to help you plan your content requirement, “Content Factories” to help you produce it, and “Content Envelopes” to help you deploy your content and also measure the response. Are you geared up for creating lots of high quality work, at a massively reduced cost per unit?
  5. You need a really smart set of media deals
    The media can deliver your messages to the consumer at the perfect time, and perfect place. If you know how, and you can strike a good deal to get it done at the right cost! As media buying houses have got bigger and bigger, have they got smarter and smarter? For example, in the past if you had a seasonally sensitive brand (eg. Ice-cream) you could strike weather sensitive deals that meant your communication ran only when the weather was appropriate? Or, we would insure your media buy against bad weather. Are your media buyers pursuing these super “propinquitous” deals?
  6. You need a great set of effectiveness analytics to work out what is working
    With so much choice of marketing channels, which is the right one, which is the right amount to use? Can you track effectiveness across all of them?
    The beauty of modern marketing is the availability of data. It can measure the return on propinquity. The trouble is without “common currencies” operating across the media mix, you cannot work out what is working, or not. You need a simple and effective set of measures that co-relates the measurement of all media, to one another. Do you have one?
  7. And you need all these resources to work seamlessly together
    Lastly, as we have mentioned before to realise the benefits of propinquity, you must have a harmonised way of working that is fast, collaborative, and efficient. Do your teams, and agencies collaborate on one project management platform, or do you get by with e-mailing (with huge lists of cc’s)? How are people incentivised to work together, or penalised for working in silos, or solos?

So, as you can see propinquity, whilst an old word, does help drive our modern marketing thinking.
If you would like a catch up at the perfect time, and perfect place, then give us a call, we will provide (probably) the perfect coffee.

Contact Flock here. 

1 Comment

  1. Dianne on August 29, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    Thanks very nice blog!

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