Blog | Jeffrey Porzio 12.20.16

The Marketing Power of Inaction

In Marketing we often talk about measuring the power of content by the actions people take. Marketers seek to create and promote content that is persuasive. That persuasive content can promote people to take actions like researching, purchasing, and sharing.

There are many platforms and methodologies that can measure the impact that content has. However, these methodologies are based on the premise that good content drives action.

But what about content that drives inaction? In many cases, good content can encourage people towards avoidance. In fact, one could say that great content can often drive the opposite of what most marketers strive for.

Great content can result in inaction and avoidance. And avoidance can be a positive attribute of a good content strategy.

The best examples of great content that drives inaction can be found in broadcast television.

Inaction as an Action – A Disclosure

Bruce Lee once described his fighting style as “the art of fighting without fighting.” One can say that inaction is in and of itself an action. For purposes of this discussion, we are avoiding the more esoteric definition of inaction.

Sundays at 9pm

Think of the most popular broadcast programs that have a specific airtime associated with them (not on-demand programming like Netflix). Many people (this writer included) watch these programs at their original air time.


Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, and Westworld all have very large audiences sitting in front of televisions at the particular time they are aired. People longingly anticipating where their storylines are going. With second screens in-hand, people often split time between Twitter and Facebook sharing the delights (Glen isn’t dead!) and heartbreaks (Oh wait, now he is). It’s very common for media companies to report on television shows that get the “most tweets.”

These are examples of action that can be measured in very tangible ways: television programs that statistics show drive the most social media chatter (action).

Time Shifting

But many of these same people sometimes watch television via time-shifting technology like DVRs. Often “life” can get in the way, causing difficulty for these people to be in front of their television at the prescribed time. DVR technology offers comfort for these people - they know they will ultimately be able to watch their show. But they also know their peers will most likely be watching and sharing at the usual time.

There is a significant threat that if these people go online before they’ve had a chance to watch the episode, they will likely be exposed to details that would ruin their day.

Many of these people will avoid being online until they’ve had the chance to catch up (inaction).

That's an example of great content driving avoidance.

‘No spoilers!’

No one likes to have an ending ruined or a surprise twist revealed prematurely, whether it’s a movie, a TV show, even a football game with an unexpected outcome. What’s even worse than one person accidently blabbing is when many people on your social media pages start discussing the topic. Asking friends, family and colleagues to refrain from sharing details until you have the chance to catch up many not always work, especially if the topic is too exciting for them to bite their tongues.

What many people do is modify their daily routines, including taking a break from social media, news sites, forums or even talking with friends until they find out what they missed.

In an unscientific poll here at PJA, 60% of respondents said that they will avoid Facebook and Twitter if they are delayed in watching a television program that is popular with their peers. This approach to deliberately delaying taking any action until you choose to can pay off in good ways, especially if you conclude it was truly worth the wait. Even better, your self-imposed exile will be at an end, and you’ll be welcomed into the group of people able and eager to “talk about that thing.”


The truth is that for many people, sharing details of a popular show on Facebook or Twitter is part of the experience. But there are a few great shows that can interrupt their normal behavior by creating self-imposed social media moratoriums. Abstinence from participating has a much greater impact on the watcher.

So, if the typical measurements of broadcast content are tune-ins, social chatter, share of voice, etc., how can we measure the self-imposed abstinence this type of content can drive? Media companies would be challenged to find a methodology and scoring system for this inaction. And, if they can, is there value to be had for Marketers or brands in driving it? What do you think? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.


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