Online advertisers fail to understand people

Advertising gurus are great aren’t they? They are seen as leaders in “the creative industry”; they pat themselves on the back with lavish award ceremonies to celebrate their “stunning” advertising creations; and they mix with the stars who feature in their ads, making us all jealous that they have friends in high places.

But, what the advertising industry hasn’t yet worked out is something that the rest of us already know – people don’t like adverts. We hate them. No-one is rushing home from work at the moment saying “hey, must get home to see the latest TV ads”. They may well be rushing home to see their favourite soap opera? But the ads? Give me a break!

And what about those billions of adverts that fall onto doormats the world over each day? Even the advertising industry admits that less than 1% of people look at them. More than that and they are ecstatic with joy at their success….! So, let’s get this right – 99% of people ignore what you are doing and that’s success? Er?

For years the advertising industry has produced stuff that looks great, but has limited value for a business. Most businesses that advertise do it because their competitors do it, rather than for any strategically logical reason. Just ask those advertising pundits to name one of the world’s top companies. Google, they’ll say. Guess what – Google achieved it’s success over an eight year period and didn’t advertise for the first seven of them.

You see, adverts are interruptions. They spoil our TV programs, they disturb the flow of articles in magazines and they annoy us when we are trying to listen to the radio. Advertisers just don’t get it; after all, they’ve tried every medium known to humans and appear to think that the Internet is their saviour.

Targeted advertising is the current mantra of the advertising industry. Apparently, advertising hasn’t been as successful as it could be, because the industry couldn’t accurately target its audiences. Now, with the Internet, they tell us, targeting is easy.

Well, here’s some news. Eye tracking tests have shown that advertising gets little attention on a web page. Why? Because it interrupts us from reading the material we came to look at. So, we ignore it. So, well done advertisers again, you’re producing advertising we don’t bother with.

Aha, says the industry, generic advertising doesn’t work. Targeting, that’s what it’s all about. So, along comes Phorm. This is a system that knows what we look at and therefore allows advertisers to only deliver material in which we are obviously interested. Already several ISPs are said to be interested in it.

Hang on – they know what we have looked at? Yes, that’s right; the system tracks what you view online and delivers “relevant” adverts as a result. Already, the inventor of the World Wide Web, Tim Berners-Lee is upset by this suggestion. Apart from his concerns over privacy issues, the advertising industry has still not understood one basic principal.

Even if they deliver “relevant” adverts, we will still ignore them. No doubt the industry will praise itself and have another award ceremony for the best “relevant” adverts, the most creative “relevant” adverts and the best performing “relevant” adverts. But, if the Beacon system on Facebook is anything to go by, ISPs that introduce this new system will get short shrift. They’ll be told in no uncertain terms by their clients – forget it. And even if they are prepared to be snooped on by their ISP, the money-making potential is limited because we already know that adverts are largely ignored.

This is particularly the case online; more and more it is becoming evident that those growing up in the information age want just that – information. That means the advertising industry needs a wholesale revolution. Targeted advertising is merely clutching at straws.

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