Thursday, January 17, 2008

How Marketers Lie to Themselves: "They Love Our Advertising!"

Mary Schmidt has a post up about one of the great marketing delusions: the idea that people just love, love, love seeing ads all the time.

Commenting about Microsoft's concept of streaming ads to shopping carts in the grocery store, complete with RFID so it can tell you about Pop-Tarts when you're in the breakfast aisle - because heaven forbid you have a few minutes in the day to just be lost in your own thoughts! - she writes:

The corporate bla-blah speak justifying streaming video ads to shopping carts is classic: “This is not all necessarily about bombarding consumers, about targeting advertising,” said Scott Ferris, general manager of Microsoft’s Advertiser and Publisher Solutions group. “It’s about also making the shopping experience better for the consumer.”

No it's not. It's about selling more stuff.

People are actually quite tolerant of advertising. They are, however, not stupid, and when you tell them that the reason your shopping cart is getting in your face with ads is to improve your quality time at the store, they are likely to think, "What kind of moron do you think I am?"

For example, does Forbes think they're fooling anyone with this?


"Skip this welcome screen?" It's not a welcome screen, it's an ad. I know that. I get it. Free content, ads. Fine. But every time I click on a link to a Forbes article and see that, I think - yes, that's right - "What kind of a moron do you think I am?"

This is what every marketer needs to remember:

1. When you're beaming a one-way message at someone to get them to buy something, it's an ad. I don't care how you send it, what the medium is, how much you drape it in trappings of social media, or how much you personalize it. It's an ad. That's OK, but don't forget it.

2. People don't really want to hear it. In the case of Forbes, they want to read an article, not an ad. In the case of the shopping carts above, people just want to buy their Cheerios and milk and bananas and go home.

3. So if you want people to pay attention to your ad, it needs to be useful, entertaining (or at least interesting), and not annoying.

People are remarkably tolerant of ads, even as they invade every bit of our mental space, and when they're very good they are treated like valuable cultural artifacts. But they are not tolerant of being treated like idiots.

You're a marketer. Don't delude yourself into thinking that there's a world full of consumers sitting there thinking, "I wish my shopping cart would tell me about the special on Acme Fried Sugar Crisps" or "Oh, Forbes is welcoming me - they're so friendly!" Just do your job and show some basic respect for peoples' intelligence.

Oh, and on that shopping cart thing - it's just the incentive I need to check out the farmer's market up the road I keep hearing about. It used to be that the worst thing about shopping was annoying muzak. Now, instead, a trip to Kroger is an assault on the senses. There are constant chirpy announcements about what I should be buying. There are screens on the registers showing videos and animations, and making beeps and boops that always make me think my phone is chirping at me - "Did I just get a text message? No, it's the $@#$#@ register again."

My big complaint about all of this is quite simple: everyone is so busy bombarding us with some message or another that there's less and less time to just be with yourself. You know - to daydream, to think about what you'll do later in the day, to suddenly wonder about that old friend you haven't heard from in years, to be struck by a creative idea. I am a marketer, but I do believe that all of these new methods of interruption marketing are basically making us into a group of stupider and stupider people.

I also think it's annoying people, and eventually the backlash will come. Professions that don't have the common sense to restrain themselves wind up being restrained by somebody else. We get what we ask for.

1 comment:

Mike said...

John, I agree with your near-rant almost entirely. I hope the ad revenue the supermarket gets from shopping-carts-as-ad-vehicles is enough to offset what it will lose from people like me, who will find a market that is still behind the times in its media bombardment savvy.

All that said--I personally believe that an ad message needs to offer a reward of SOME kind to the reader/viewer, whether it's valuable information, a pretty picture, or a chuckle.

We, for example, send postcards to prospects that poke fun at our own industry. Our intent is to get a laugh, and a bit of the prospect's goodwill. (And, just maybe, a little credit for understanding how the more ham-fisted of our cohorts look to someone on his or her side of the desk.) It has worked quite well.

I guess I'm simply putting up a mild defense of Forbes. Without knowing the full context of your example, I'd guess that the "Thought of the Day" is designed to do something similar. May not work for you, but it would for me. At least I'd read it, and sometimes find it worthwhile. But I certainly wouldn't trash them for insincerity. I'm sure that, to paraphrase Ralph Kramden somewhat: "they know that you know that they know that you know they're trying to sell you something." I don't think it's an attempt to hide that fact as much as it's a reward for paying attention.

The overall sentiment you expressed is dead on, John, and marketers had better pay attention. But as Luke Sullivan mentions in a book I use for the college copywriting courses I teach, "Nothing matters until they like you."