I've seen a lot of advertising and marketing solutions pitched over the past several months, and one of the most common messages I have heard is that we need to ensure that our messages are "respectful" and "non-intrusive."
On the surface, I agree with the concept that annoying consumers is not a good idea. We live in a world where consumers have millions of places to go and billions of messages to ignore or acknowledge. To build and retain good will, there obviously needs to be limits on the heavy handedness of marketing tactics. Advertising needs to be a fair swap for the content the viewer wants.
For example, a major TV network offers a user-generated video (UGV) site that runs 30 seconds of pre-roll before about every third piece of UGV one requests. It feels acceptable when the UGVs you want are a minute or so long because the ad-to-edit ratio in this scenario is 14 percent (30 seconds out of 210 seconds.) But it feels as bad as a pop-up/browser hijack combination when the three things you want to view are about eight seconds long; in this instance, the ad ratio is 56 percent (30 seconds out of 54 seconds.)
But no matter. Let's get real. The challenge in real-world marketing is that many, many messages from advertisers will not be sought out by consumers. Certain industry gurus can pretend that there will be an explosion of innovation and creativity that will make every ad miraculously fascinating. But let me tell you: It's not going to happen. Procter & Gamble (P&G) will still need to sell Swiffer mops, the Chicagoland Daihatsu Car Dealers Association will still need to promote sell-a-thons, consumer packaged goods (CPG) companies will still need to promote new Middle American foods-in-a-box, and so on. And it's rather difficult to imagine that all or even most of these messages will be scintillating.
Naturally, someone out there reading this has just thought of a marketing program that will make all of America seek out the messages of the Chicagoland Daihatsu Car Dealers Association. Wonderful. But there are thousands of dealer associations that are going to need ads. And some of those ads are going to be messages we tolerate rather than coo about.
Yes, we all have to accept the reality that marketing needs to be more entertaining and engaging to consumers today. It's no longer the case that three TV networks deliver captive audiences to marketers. But regardless, it's going to be pretty tough for most messages to compete for attention with the millions of deeply engaging pieces of content floating out there. And the average ad is going to be, well, average.
Contextual targeting and BT are helping and will continue to help better focus messages on potentially interested buyers. Humor and UGV are clearly changing the face of marketing content for the better. But the Chicagoland Diahatsu Car Dealers Association still needs to push a sell-a-bration around Labor Day. And Columbus Day. And Thanksgiving. And Christmas. And Memorial Day. And a skin care company still needs to sell an extra-strength lotion line extension. It'll be rather challenging to transform their messages into "must see" content.
Many people speak wisely about how advertising needs to evolve -- and perhaps even wither away to a more evangelist-centric alternative. I completely agree. But today, right now, P&G needs to sell tens of thousands of cases of Charmin. And you do that by generating awareness and interest among a broad set of consumers, most of whom are not anxiously awaiting the next toilet paper epic.
There are also some marketers out there who feel it is our ethical responsibility not to intrude. I say hooey. We are paying for the web. Consumers have demonstrated that they won't crack open their wallets to pay for it directly. And in this world, you don't get something for nothing.
We make it possible for consumers to have access to billions of pages, tens of millions of videos, millions of games, etc. All we ask in return is for an occasional 30 seconds or less of attention for an ad. There will be thousands of times a year when we have to intrude a bit on consumers in exchange for funding the comprehensive library/newsstand/Blockbuster store that sits on their desk.
Waiting and hoping for a significant portion of the web to seek out all of our messages is not a good business practice. It's great when it happens, and you should try to make it happen for your brand. But it isn't always going to be the case.
Consumers will brumble a bit, but ultimately they will accept intrusive ads. They will have to -- because the alternative for them would be paying 2 cents a page for their web browsing. There are some realities where "consumer control" does not and cannot apply.
Jim Nichols is senior partner at Catalyst: SF.