Thursday, March 26, 2009

Replacing ANTI-Social Marketing

For most of the twentieth century and even through the first decade of the twenty-first, marketing has been anti-social. The three primary modalities of advertising have been Interruption, Entertainment, and Information. While these methods were effective in a one-way mass media world, they are failing in a mass-connected social world. It is time that marketers learn to replace these anti-social marketing methods with three new social modalities - connection, collaboration, and support.

Before I explain how the new approaches can replace the old, it may be useful to once again explain why the old approaches are failing and are anti-social, even in a dictionary definition way,
Antagonistic toward or disrespectful of others; rude.
Eric Clemons, Professor of Operations and Information Management at the Wharton School of UPenn offered this very interesting article on Techcrunch, "Why Advertising is Failing on the Internet" and Doc Searls followed up with "After the Advertising Bubble Bursts." A pleasant half hour can also be spent on John Willshire's "The Future of Advertising in One Afternoon" (available as an easy to skim slide deck).

What all of them are talking about is that the transition from a one-way broadcast media to a deeply interconnected two way communications medium is, to use Clemons' word, shattering advertising. Ultimately the goal of the three strategies of interruption, entertainment, and information is the same -- get attention for a company's brand, product, or service. The common theme here is that companies must now work to earn attention through the social communications medium as opposed to being able to simply buy attention from the control points in the old mass media model.


For awhile now the old ideas of interruption marketing have been receiving challenges. Seth Godin offers a great description of the underlying problem of interruption in his book Permission Marketing and nicely summarized in this short essay by Angelo Fernando entitled "So Interruption Marketing Isn't Working"
Let’s say you’ve gone to the airport early morning. Someone walks up to you, and asks you directions to a gate you’re not familiar with. Since you have time to spare, and don’t mind the interruption, you try to help the person out.

Now imagine it’s later in the day at the same airport. You’re late for your flight, and someone asks you the same question. Will you give him the same attention? Finally, a third scenario: You’re late for the flight, the airport is crowded, and this is the fourth person to ask you the same question. What are the chances you will pay any attention at all? You’re probably going to even develop a strategy for avoiding further interruptions –not making eye contact, brushing them off, refusing to help.
This is the simple case - information overload or "smog" - as a reason that interruptions are not working. So many interruptions are competing for our attention that we have developed strategies for avoiding them. But there is something else happening here as well, something deeply anti-social.

When advertising was presented as part of the one-way stream of information arriving on our porches, radios, or televisions we accepted that advertising as a part of the total experience of the medium. But once the medium for information becomes two-way, interruption advertising becomes disrespectful or even rude. Imagine yourself in a conversation with another person:
You: How did you like that episode of Heroes?

Friend: It was great I really liked the special effects

--interruption-- Buy Heroes T-Shirts NOW --interruption--

You: Anyway, as I was saying...
This conversational example is an anecdotal way to illustrate what happens when the directed engaged communicating online user is interrupted with advertising - even when it is "contextual." To expand on this illustration, consider two shifts at work here that contribute to the downfall of interruption --

(1) Freedom of Choice -- more and more information sources are emerging which have the relevant information that we may want. Sources which are free of interruption and easy to navigate will be preferred over sources which are choked with interruptions. In addition, we have an increasing array of strategies to eliminate the interruptions from the information we consume - Tivo, pop-up blockers, etc. This expansion of choice also leads to the second shift...

(2) Seek vs. Browse -- when we received a bundle of information which happened to include advertising, we would browse through all of it and select that which was most interesting (sometimes even advertising). Now an increasing amount of our media diet is search-originated and it is much more difficult (and unfriendly) to interrupt someone when they are pursuing information in a directed mode. Even how we browse is shifting with more of it happening in social spaces in which we are browsing what our friends are doing, thinking, watching, reading. Learning about something interesting to read from a friend is a much more difficult (and unfriendly) mode of behavior to insert interruptions.

Interruption, the corner stone of the advertising industry, is "shattering."


When is an interruption not an interruption? When it makes us laugh? When it is art? Although not everyone can agree on what is funny, or what is art, or (more broadly) what is entertaining, a stand-by of the advertising industry to rise above simple annoyance has been to create advertisements which in some way entertain.

And sure, the "bud - weis - er" frogs were amusing. The first time. Which is why the company has had to run thousands of different "funny" advertisements over the past few years -- once a particular punch line has been laughed at, it's time to move on to the next one. Very few "entertaining" advertisements are as entertaining the second, third, or fourth time we see them.

And this may not be the biggest problem with entertainment as a method of advertising. The biggest problem is more likely to be -- does it even work? Do people watching an entertaining advertisement actually remember what brand was associated? And if they do remember, is the association positive or (as in the recent case of the Superbowl ad) can you actually do damage to your brand?

The core problem is that the "entertainment" is probably not core to the brand value. So while a scantily clad woman may get attention, it doesn't actually communicate anything related to running say, an Internet service (as in the case of

Obviously entertainment products can be a lot more successful using entertainment as a building block for an interrupting advertisement. A snippet of a song, for a singer. The movie trailer. Any excerpted material from an entertainment product can itself be entertaining as well as remaining core to the brand value -- sometimes the trailer IS the core value and is better than them movie itself!

But leaving aside entertainment products, why should a beer company, an auto manufacturer, or an accounting firm use entertainment as the content of a strategy for getting people's attention? Because it is less irritating than an interruption that doesn't entertain?


Finally, the last of the core modalities of twentieth century advertising - provide people with information. What a great idea. People need information and companies can be the source. Want to buy a new Ford Taurus? Get all the facts at or should you? Why would you trust the company that wants to sell you the car to give you honest information about the car? According to Edelman's "10th Annual Trust Barometer"
Trust in corporate communications like press releases, reports and emails fell to 26% from 38%; a company's own Web site to 24% from 31%; and corporate or product advertising to 13% from 20% among informed publics ages 35 to 64 in 18 countries. (emphasis added)
Just 13% of people "trust" advertising. And you can expect that this 13% is the most trusting of any communications from anyone -- not the best audience on which to build your business strategy.

Of course the other problem with information based advertising is getting it to the right person at the right time. While I may be interested in price information on a new car when I am making a purchase decision, I am definitely not interested in such information a month after my purchase. Search engine marketing is the one place where an advertiser has a high likelihood of success in placing information in front of a potential customer at the moment of interest, and for this reason it is, so far, an enormously successful advertising medium.

But given a choice between information from a peer and information from a company, there is no doubt (as Edelman's survey shows) that people will chose to heed information from a peer when making a purchase decision.

Even advertising as information fails when social communications reaches critical mass and exceeds one-way broadcast as the way in which we gather knowledge and entertainment.

Next post -- How the new will replace the old - connection, collaboration, and support.

1 comment:

Titan Interactif said...

Hi Ted, just connected to the WE ARE SOCIAL group on Linked In read a question and saw your answer - led me here.
Wow, and Thank YOU. This post, and pt2 which I'll read in a moment cristal clearly puts everything in perspective.
I'm a key IAB Canada player, I do a lot of training in online advertising. Although I've been touching on Social Media, I've yet to find a clearly laid out history of what was, how it's changing and hopefully where we're going.
If you don't mind I'd like to quote you and use some of your references (which are already open in my browser and ready to read) in future training I'll be giving in the fall to senior advertisers and agency people.