July 18, 2012

Why Interactivity Makes Advertising Less Effective

The advertising and marketing industries had a dream. The dream was that interactive media would revolutionize advertising and make it far more relevant and effective.

There's only one problem. Consumers have shown no interest whatsoever in interacting with advertising. None.

Click through rates on display ads continue to drop and are now below one in a thousand. Every attempt at interactive TV has been a dismal failure. YouTube has thousands and thousands of TV spots and ostensibly "viral" videos. The overwhelmingly majority of which have never been viewed by anyone but the director's mother.

What marketers still refuse to comprehend is that, at best, advertising is a minor annoyance. It is pretty clear that most consumers are willing to go to substantial lengths to avoid it.

Which makes the ability to interact with a medium the enemy of advertising.

This is nothing new. Radio advertising became less effective with the invention of the push-button car radio. As soon as a crappy ad came on we interacted with the button. It is also why TV advertising became less effective with the invention of the remote. TV spots were a lot more effective when you had to drag your ass off the sofa to change the channel.

People who can easily interact with a medium to avoid ads generally will. But there are a few exceptions to this. Happily there are some very talented people in advertising who can create ads that are so interesting, beautiful, or funny that people will not try to avoid them. Unhappily, there are very few of these.

The other exception occurs when people are shopping. Someone looking for something is willing to interact. Just like she once would interact with the yellow pages, she will now interact with Google.

These exceptions notwithstanding, easy interaction with a medium is not the advertiser's friend.

But there is apparently no end to marketers' ability to delude themselves, and also no end to ad hustlers' willingness to feed these delusions. The latest delusion is "content."

The same crowd that sold us interactive advertising as a marketing miracle is now selling us "content" as the new magic elixir. You see, if we engage the consumer with compelling online content...

Well, guess what? Consumers are at least as eager to avoid our "content" as they are our ads. Most "content," like most advertising, is dumb and self-serving and offers nothing of interest or value to consumers.

Which is just another way of saying that the only way to get most consumers to pay attention to advertising messages is to force them to --  the much-ridiculed "interruption model."

The lovely fantasy of advertising interactivity has been undermined by an unfortunate fact of nature -- no one in his right mind volunteers for advertising.

To put it succinctly, consumers are far more likely to utilize interactivity to avoid advertising than to engage with it.


dotcoma said...

Totally agree on ads. Regarding 'content', if the content they would like to offer us is the same crap companies broadcast from their twitter accounts, I agree 100% with you. But it does not necessarily need to be that way. Smart companies could - in theory, at least - offer interesting information ('content' does indeed seem like something created specifically for dumb consumers) and services to their customers. It's not easy and it certainly goes against the assumption of having to deal with stupid 'consumers', but I think it could be done.

Tom Albrighton said...

Another great piece. 

The froth around 'content' doesn't help, but as dotcoma says, some content can have value. But there's no great mystery to it – it's just about identifying product-related problems that might be solved by information you can easily provide. 
If you're a plumber, for example, you could create a page about how to turn off the water supply when a pipe bursts. Then, when people are desperately searching for that info, you could *hope* that they find your article, stay on your website and choose your services – assuming they're not on the other side of the world, of course. This type of 'content' does actually generate a sort of 'engagement' with your product. However, as your piece makes clear, this has to be driven by the customer's needs and priorities or it will fail. Also, it's completely generic – the customer doesn't care that the content comes from you specifically, nor are they necessarily more likely to buy from you because they consume it. The only truly specific info you can offer is that about your own product, which has limited value and will come across as self-serving. People aren't stupid. The other type of 'content' is fizzy froth that's aimed at generating fleeting interest on social-media channels and perhaps gaining a few backlinks in the process. The vast majority of infographics fall into this category, as do many glitzy online consumer campaigns that offer interaction of one sort or another. This is what most people mean when they say 'engagement'. In this model, the advertiser hopes for a sort of bait-and-switch where the fascination of the 'content' will somehow rub off on the brand. Sadly, entertaining consumers is like stroking a cat – they might love it at the time, but they'll flounce off the minute it's over. (In darker moments, I feel that the famous Old Spice campaign, which had so very little to do with the product, falls into this category.)

Also, as you've noted before, the sort of people with the time and inclination to do all this interacting are precisely those who advertisers shouldn't be bothering with – young people. But since they're also very active on social media, it's easy to maintain that something of value is being achieved, if one chooses the right (i.e. wrong) metrics.

Mister Gash said...

In broad agreement TAD.  But there may just exist a few souls capable of producing engaging content (in the same way that there are a few souls producing engaging ads).  The DC Shoes / Ken Block film last week demonstrates this I think.  Although Lord alone knows what the budget was....And The Fosters Funny site (which maybe UK only) has worked well for the brand.  Just like 'traditional' advertising - the good stuff  works, the rest...well it simply clogs the system.

dotcoma said...

Information about their products; information, ideally not self-serving, about their industry; information about how people are using their products; services to help people use their products (think Nike's running app for the ipod/iphone); opportunities for their customers to connect with one another, understand how to make the most out of these products, and understand the good and the bad about these products; conversations with people with the company about these products and possible improvements.

This is what I would call "marketing on the web", and "with" the web and with and not against your customers. What we see instead, what gets called "web marketing" is just "direct marketing on the web" and, indeed, marketing against the times and against the tide. It "works" only if your mouse trap is efficient enough - I know, as I used to spend millions for an online dating mouse trap - and/or if your budget is large enough and the metrics you use to define "success" are vague enough and loose enough. 

Tom said...

I don't think this is an argument against interactivity, it's an argument against crappy stuff that fails to either entertain, elicit emotion or even just be useful.

I think you've missed the point on online ads. Click through rates are extremely low, but they aren't dropping as far as I'm aware. And the key point is not the click through rate, it's the cost per lead. Take a look at this and see how it ties to your thoughts about the importance of interruption http://www.thoughtgadgets.com/2012/07/on-fallacy-that-digital-response-rates.htmlNew commenter - I enjoy your rants very much.

Tom said...

I've screwed up the link, try this


Paul Benjou said...

Tom..When you bungy jump and miss the floor of the canyon by an inch .... that's pretty damn low.  How much more evidence do you need to stay away from it?

Wnekski said...

The corollary between interest and engagement made in this article and endorsed by all the comments below is way too simplistic.
The sad fact is that marketers, and American marketers in particular, have built enormous global brands by flooding the media with bland invisible dross. 
The reason? Because it sells. However much it offends the sensibilities of the creative community, and for all the puny critiques and insults they have to suffer; the multinationals responsible are laughing all the way to the bank.

Geoff Williams said...

Perhaps you just need a shorter rope?

ghensel said...

'The lovely fantasy of advertising interactivity has been undermined by an unfortunate fact of nature -- no one in his right mind volunteers for advertising.' - I would say this is not just a problem of interactive advertising. It is a problem of advertising in general. Nobody gives a shit - be it on TV or not.

john p woods said...

Disparate and desperate.

Pete Buckley said...

Agree completely. I can't think of any 'branded' content I've ever wanted to 'engage' with, most of it is complete rubbish. Maybe the Michelin Guide was the high point and it's been downhill since.