Effective vs. Annoying

Recently, a story (well, rant really) by Daniel Akst in the New York Times complained about too many commercial messages in this country. He argued in “Ubiquitous Ads Devalue All Messages” that with “Total advertising spending in this country about $100 billion a year, or something approaching $400 for every man, woman and child…diminishing returns are starting to set in here.” As examples he singles out " an advertisement attached at eye level near the fuel hose…ads on shopping carts…commercials on the phone when on hold (and)…an avalanche of email.”

In the end, he suggests “…a federal ban on junk email like the one that suppressed junk faxes years ago.”

Fair enough.

As one who also gets his fair share of, as Mr. Akst puts it “…email sales pitches for laser printer cartridges, low-interest mortgages and cut-rate Viagra;” I understand his frustration. Who among us doesn’t hit delete more often than the key to open email?

Mr. Akst seems like a pretty smart guy (he more than once quotes an English economist from the 1830's to make his point on diminishing returns) and I think he speaks for a great many people. But in his rant, he makes no distinction between effective advertising and annoying advertising.



I seriously doubt that Mr. Akst would enjoy a world totally devoid of advertising. He has probably forgotten that it was a small space ad in the New Yorker where he found his wife’s anniversary present; or that a quarter-page ad in his newspaper reminded him of the time and location of a community carnival that he promised to take his kids to; or (horrors) that email reminder from Williams Sonoma made certain he got a gift in time for Mother’s Day.

As much as he might hate “What’s awwwwwwup?” Mr. Akst doesn’t remember that he’s humming The Beatles’ “I’m the Taxman” because he saw it in a TV commercial. Or that he laughs as loud as his kids at the “Dew” spots shown at his local cinema before the feature starts.

When he was updating the kitchen in his apartment, Mr. Akst could not find ENOUGH ads for fixtures, tiles, appliances and cabinets even though he bought six home-oriented magazines JUST to search the ads for ideas and went online for hours comparing prices of items he thought might work for the renovation.

And, of course Mr. Akst completely forgot that while on he clicked on an ad for a new restaurant that looked interesting and that while checking out movies on he clicked on several studio trailers.

I don’t think Mr. Akst is angry with the number of ads he sees, I think he is upset because of the quality of the ads he sees. He likes or mentally registers the ones that speak to him or reach him when he’s in a consuming mood. He unconsciously quotes ad copy in his cocktail party conversations. He rips ad pages out of magazines to save and downloads coupons from the Web. But he gets really pissed when he sees those emails for “golden investment opportunities, luxury travel and products to enhance the libido.”

And that is what we in the Internet advertising medium must always keep in mind. We have an extraordinary opportunity to capture the imagination of an entire world as it watches us show what we can so. Let’s hope that the online creativity of BMW, SONY, American Express, Cingular, and Warner Brothers are remembered long after the inbox crap.

John Durham is COO of Interep Interactive

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