Friday, November 03, 2006

Notes from the Arms Race

One of the promises of interactive marketing was that it would make marketing more efficient by making it more relevant, interesting, and engaging for consumers. Instead of being bombarded by traditional advertising everywhere we turned, marketers could use technology to target the right people with the right messages and make those messages engaging and interesting.

Or not. As is often the case with the promise of better things to come, old thinking trumps new capabilities. Every now and then I come across interactive ads that are so mired in the ideas of "interruption marketing" that they make me stop and think, "Wow. These people really don't get it."

Banners and pop-ups are one of the great battlegrounds of interruption marketing. Banners started appearing on web sites. Consumers started ignoring them, or in the case of those who were more adamant in their dislike of them, blocking them with software.

Then came pop ups. You're not going to look at our ad? Well, then we'll just throw it up in front of the web page you're trying to look at! The silliness of this is mind-boggling - and of course, things escalated with pop-up blockers, now a standard feature of every web browser.

Like a dog after a bone in a dumpster, some advertisers haven't given up, and so we've seen all kinds of new formats come along to circumvent ad-blocking technology.

If you've been on the Wired site recently, you've probably seen one that's striking in its simple, clueless insistence on making you look at an ad you're probably not interested in. The advertiser is Blackberry, who are flogging their new Pearl model.

I went to Wired to read something (imagine that) and found myself on this screen:

The Blackberry ad is on the right. It's a rollover - move your mouse over it, and it expands. But note the position of the ad - it's right between where your mouse pointer is likely to be (if you've just clinked a link to get the Wired page) and the scroll bar.

So if you try to go use the scroll bar in your browser window, you can't help but roll over the ad, and get this:

That's what happened to me. Several times.

Here is what I learned from Blackberry's ad: Nothing on Wired is interesting enough to merit this annoyance, and I have a new reason to hate Blackberries.

You know, if you put an ad up that relates to something of interest to me with a compelling call to action, I'll click on it and look around and perhaps even buy something from you. If you annoy me while I'm trying to do something else, on the other hand, I'll finish the ad experience thinking "That company bugs the crap out of me."

Here's a good question to always ask yourself: if I have to jump through hoops to defeat someone's efforts to avoid my advertising, or trick them into looking at it, is the result going to be worthwhile?

Failing to ask that question is a key sign that you're trapped in 20th century interruption marketing thinking, the endless arms race of spending more to get in consumers' faces for an ever-declining payoff.

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