Mobile media app developers and technologists are in danger of falling into the same trap that Nielsen did when it first started measuring TV viewership in an attempt to identify the numbers of people consuming ads: losing sight of the fact that people can look away. Developers are now coming up with designs for media apps that serve up advertisements in ways that attempt to wrest control of the audience’s attention. The typical ploy is to program functionality so the audience has to let the ad run before seeing the content they’re after.
But these developers are forgetting that you can’t legislate attention -- you can only inspire it. While marketers or app developers can mandate the running of ads, audiences don’t have to watch or consume them. This is true no matter what the technology is.
A perfect example is the WSJ Live app, which is a decent mechanism for bringing WSJ reporting to life more vividly. Consumers rate this app 4 out of 5 stars in the app store, but the first page of reviews clearly indicates why that fifth star is missing. Each review complains about the foisting of advertisements on the viewer. WSJ Live subscribers can’t stop these ads from running. Many reviewers even advise potential users to seek their news elsewhere.
For example, here’s the first comment:
“Too many advertisements. An adv. comes up before you can even get to the news, then another pops up when you try to watch another video. Bloomberg at least offers the ability to skip the adv. I am a WSJ subscriber, and love the WSJ, but don’t bother with the app.”
Serve the customer first
These comments offer metaphorical commentary on how most of marketing will succeed in the future: by serving the audience with useful information first and serving up the commercial second (or third, fourth, or barely at all). Experiential marketers have been working on this principle for years, and social marketing theory is built on exactly this concept.
For 100 years, event and experience marketing campaigns have consistently cut through the clutter of marketing precisely because the premise behind these campaigns has been that serving the audience with useful information or inspiring them with an irresistible experience must take priority over the brand message. This is the heart of social media activity: audiences gathering around ideas, information and experiences about which they are passionate -- sometimes celebrating them, and always expanding them. These experiences should be supported by brands and ideally, be reflective of brands -- but not overwhelmed by them.
For the past five years, social media marketers have been going on and on about the death of “interruptive marketing.” One would think app and device developers then wouldn’t even attempt to legislate control moving forward. And yet we see the same wrong-headedness that has defined the old model of TV advertising before it too started to become social.
Marketers -- learn who your audience is. Serve them with inspiration and information, and don’t try to control them. Follow these simple rules, and your consumers will become so much more -- they will turn into ambassadors for your brand.