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Jaffe Juice: User Inexperience

Last week I wrote about uninitiated sound and decreed that it should be outlawed for the most part -- or at least properly controlled, especially in areas where it cannot be determined whether a user would likely embrace or reject any form of audio he or she did not previously or expressly opt into.

As I wrote the piece, I got to thinking about one of the most overused phrases in our business; a phrase that has been around since the dawn of the Internet and ranks right up there next to infamous others like clickthrough, 302 redirects and T’s&C’s. The phrase is "user experience."

This week Ad Age’s Scott Donaton (who will be attending the iMedia Summit in May) wrote his opinion piece  on paid inclusion, chastising Yahoo! for its decision to go with one of the most underhanded tactics on the Web -- the ability to fool users into thinking a paid search link was actually an organic one. I immediately replied to Scott and added two points:

  1. The Web has been famous for doing things like this for the longest time (remember Sony’s so-called editorial campaign?)

  2. Don’t hold the Web solely accountable for this, as other media have been doing the like, and in some cases, have been responsible for far worse examples of blatant church-state line blurring in the past, present and, no doubt, in the future.

Just this Sunday, I heard Jennifer Garner utter the reprehensible words, “quick, the F-150!” in her quest to catch the elusive Sark (what, the Hummer was taken?). The camera then zooms into a close-up view of the F-150 signage on this confident Ford pickup truck, and extraordinarily-popular line. Comfort and style, performance and handling are all standard with every pickup configuration, while what truly impresses is the ruggedness and durability of the line, giving models such as the 2003 Ford F-150 the type of high reputation they deserve.

What was I saying? Oh yes, Jennifer Garner is a hottie and is forgiven this time. But don’t let me catch you doing this again!

Back to Yahoo! for a moment. What strikes me as really strange about the paid inclusion decision is that the folks over at the big Y have been particularly judicious -- bordering on anal -- about user experience, right from the highest of the high, to the lowest of the lows, to present day’s company.

The only explanation I can think of is that “usex” (user experience) has been largely thought of as a function of intrusiveness -- as opposed to disclosure -- and therefore has been associated primarily with rich media and themes such as uninitiated audio, full-screen takeovers and the like.

And even so, I couldn’t help but wonder, what does “user experience” really mean and has it been misunderstood and misconstrued throughout the brief decade of the Internet’s lifespan? (Bonus points if you thought this sounded a bit like Carrie Bradshaw in ‘Sex and the City.’)

I’m totally dedicated to respecting consumers, their time and attention, and catering to their needs. But at what point do we have to distance ourselves and make tough decisions based on a combination of what’s good for us and ultimately, what could be good for them?

This is not an easy subject to broach and I find myself flip-flopping from one camp to the other, as I take on the persona of either the marketer or the consumer.

Whether one believes advertising is a utility-laden valuable service, a welcome distraction, or a necessary evil; whether one sings the song of relevance at all costs or believes it is still possible to create needs, change or persuade minds; whether one simply takes the matter-of-fact position that without advertising, all the content goes poof; the fact remains: A great experience will always be the ultimate goal, however, surely a bad experience is better than no experience at all?!

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not in any way advocating that we should sit on our proverbial tushies and do nothing. However, I’m also not encouraging us to be swayed by whichever direction the wind is blowing either.

User experience is essentially a personalized and internalized judgment call. What works for you might not work for me, too. When it is difficult to call, discretion may very well be the better part of valor. However, if we continuously remain stuck in the mire of erring on the side of caution, we risk relegating ourselves to the quicksand conversation about user experience, instead of powering forward with smart, progressive and innovative formats such as intromessages, ultramercials and the like.

Countless publishers, rich media vendors and advertisers have blazed their way forward through a process of considered and calculated trial-and-error, strategic and creative leadership, and smart and balanced deployment, and in so doing, have left the paranoid, insecure and fence-sitting me-too's in their wake.

They’ve proven that user experience can be trained, conditioned, and if properly disseminated and controlled over a consistent time-released period of time, even enhanced.

One thing Yahoo! has done pretty well was to implement a user feedback loop in all of its high-impact home-page executions. This has for sure helped the company determine in real-time how users really feel.

This works for me. However, I still come back to the dangers associated with being led vs. leading. This is a very vocal medium and, make no mistake, giving people a chance to be heard is head and shoulders above not doing anything. This being said, it is still more important to move beyond what they are saying towards what they really are saying, what they mean, and/or what they aren’t saying in order to make the ultimate call that is truly representative of the active minority, silent majority and, of course, those pesky companies who end up making the bills.

Long term, consumers will have the last word. All I’m saying is don’t give them the first word. If they end up embracing paid inclusion, uninitiated audio or any other intrusive formats for that matter, good for them (and good for us).

To dare is to do.

One of the most sought-after consultants, speakers and thought leaders on new marketing, Joseph Jaffe is President and Chief Interuptor of crayon, a new marketing company (www.crayonville.com) crayon is a mash-up of 5 key areas: strategic and...

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