June 24, 2013

Beware Of Marketers With Ideologies

In 1996, Seth Godin had this to say to Fast Company...
"I guarantee you that by the year 2000, Internet banner ads will be gone."

Let's be fair to Seth. He's a very smart guy and he has been right about a lot of things. But the problem with the above statement, like so many aspects of marketing these days, is that it is rooted in ideology.

Seth's ideology was "permission marketing." He believed that the "interruption model" of traditional advertising was on the way out, and that in order to communicate effectively with consumers, marketers would need their "permission."

Like much of new age marketing philosophy, it sounds lovely. The problem is that the world is impossibly complicated. Having operating principles is fine, but being ideologically committed to a "big idea" often ends in a train wreck.

Big ideological ideas are often the downfall of pundits, historians and marketers.  Philip Tetlock is an author, professor at the University of California-Berkeley, winner of lots of impressive awards -- and an expert on experts.

According to Tetlock, experts who are most often wrong are those who have an ideological commitment to a "big idea."
"They tended to have one big, beautiful idea that they loved to stretch, sometimes to the breaking point. They tended to be articulate and very persuasive as to why their idea explained everything. The media often love (them.)"
People attached to ideologies often are not able to adapt their "big, beautiful idea" to the constant surprises of the real world; instead, they re-interpret the real world to fit their big, beautiful idea.

In fact, what has happened is that contrary to permission model theory, the interruption model is becoming more dominant on the web, not less.
  • Facebook is now chock-a-block with display ads and sponsored posts.
  • Every news and entertainment site is packed with pre-roll. 
  • Interstitial ads drive us all crazy every time we click to a new site.
Despite its ubiquity, the interruption model has thus far not worked very well on the web. The reason is simple -- interruption requires grabbing attention, and banner ads are not very good at this. They mostly occupy very little space on a page, and consequently, are weak at grabbing attention.

A TV spot takes up a whole screen. A radio spot takes up the whole audio spectrum. A magazine ad can occupy up to 2 full pages. A billboard occupies a... billboard. But the average web ad takes up a tiny little area of a page that we have taught ourselves to ignore. It most resembles a small space newspaper ad. It has very little impact, and the result is that it isn't very good at interruption.

Meanwhile, permission marketing is useful but limited. It mainly allows us to preach to the converted. It may be beneficial for popular, high interest products and categories. But for the average business - a maker of vacuum cleaner bags or pencils or mufflers - it offers little in the way of leverage.

In the article quoted above, Godin also went on to say...
"Marketing is a contest for people's attention."
He is certainly right about this. However, the grand visions and big, beautiful new ideas about marketing that were supposed to help us gain people's attention in new ways, have proven disappointingly hollow.

The result is that banner advertising -- that horrible, corrupt, and maligned old thing -- not only is not "gone," it is metastasizing.

Many of us wish that banner ads had disappeared in 2000, as Seth promised. But one of the lessons about advertising is that practicality consistently outperforms ideology.

1 comment:

Russ said...

Bob, people don't click on billboards and they occupy a tiny space relative to our field of vision. Is the difference between them and a banner ad so vast? Most banner ads are crap - but surely that doesn't mean the space they occupy is worthless? Or am I missing something?