I generally enjoy reading Bob Garfield’s work. So I read his recent AdAge blog post about new media with interest.
In this post he recounts being bombarded in a foreign airport by loudly shouted commercial offers. I know what he’s talking about — offers for time share presentations, people who want to be your “friend” so you’ll use their taxi, people who want to help with your luggage (for a fee), offers to sell you hats, sunglasses, food, … The list goes on.
As I read I thought: Bob, you’ve nailed it. Welcome to the world of new media – that cacophany of demanding voices violating your privacy.
But that wasn’t what he meant. He thinks the old world of media was a lot like this airport because it was based on interruptions. (I can sort-of buy that.) And, he suggests that future advertising won’t be that way. Huh? In fact, he implies a utopian vision that is so commercial-offensiveness free that humanity must be surviving without ever having to admit that society depends on commercial interests.
To be fair, Bob Garfield is reflecting conventional wisdom among the advertising elite. So let’s think about this supposed utopia.
I’ve seen something like it someplace. Hmmm. Where… Let me think. Oh, yes. Star Trek, Star Wars, and Avatar — all movies with utopian visions of the future created as an author’s fantasy – not by reality.
What’s the reality about new media’s intrusiveness? When you stop and really listen to new media, I find it intensely more intrusive and insistent than old. (And I know I’m not alone.)
Consider your mobile life. In the old days, apart from some outdoor advertising and point of purchase, once we left our homes, we were advertising free. Now it is the avowed goal of the tech industry to bombard us with advertising the minute we touch a mobile device.
Consider your ability to ignore advertising. In the old days, you could go get a beer from the fridge. Now, you have to endure that 15 seconds of pre-roll with a meaningless Old Spice ad just to find out if an online video is at all interesting. (Of course, I’m told that most people just skip those ads by opening other windows on their computers.)
Consider how new media advertising invades your personal connections like in social media. If I discuss woodworking projects with friends on Facebook, I’m followed for weeks by advertising for woodworking tools who want me to “like” them. GO AWAY!!! I don’t want them, don’t care, and resent the intrusion on my personal space. STOP IT!!!
Consider the new media “bait & switch”. Rather than honestly tell you “here’s an ad for a product we think you’d find interesting”, many agencies tell their clients to deceive through content. There’s an extensive literature about how to sucker consumers over to your website so you can bombard them with commercial messages.
Consider the lies. Lies travel farther and faster than truth in social media. So, the new advertising elite learn they have to reject meaningful & useful messages because they’re too complex – and because only a few types of messages will ever get seen in new media.
Consider how many messages bombard us. A couple of years ago AdAge noted that in the old days, we were presented 500 commercial messages in a day and research showed we remembered 1 or 2. Now, we are presented with 2,500 commercial messages in a day and research shows we still only remember 1 or 2. In other words new media, with its pervasive stridency, is training consumers to ignore advertising at a higher rate. And that means we’ll have to yell louder and more insistently just to be heard.
There is a fundamental societal flaw at work here. We used to have an unspoken agreement about advertising as a society. The agreement included ideas like “our society needs advertising to create and sustain jobs”, “consumers want to learn about products that are meaningful to them”, and “the ads pay for making good content”.
What made this work were specific media structures and limits on how advertising was used in those structures. Now the structures are changing. And those limits are gone so the best advertising agencies compete to see who can intrude on our personal lives at the fastest rate.
In a third world airport, the situation is different. The airport noise that strikes Bob (and myself) as so loud is part of their social contract. But it’s not part of ours and neither is the intrusiveness of new media.
The real issue is what we want for the future in our society. An airport cacophony that follows us everywhere? Or advertising that delivers both economic strength and quality of life? Only time will tell whether we get what we want. But without dramatic intervention, the captains of the advertising industry seem hell bent on rushing to the airport.
Copyright 2010 – Doug Garnett
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