Should Advertising Be Punishable As Aggravated Assault?

Until recently, I thought "dark social" was when you looked at porn on Tumblr after you turned out the bedroom lights. Turns out that if I cut and pasted an item and send it to say, a John Gaffney, via email, I WAS part of dark social.

Dark social is simply social sharing that occurs in private digital communication tools such as instant messaging, email, text messages, forum posts and increasingly in apps like Snapchat, WeChat, WhatsApp, etc. This is not "sharing" that social platforms can track -- but apparently there is a lot of it, with 91% of Americans regularly moving information via dark social methods. Enough so that earlier this week someone wrote an opinion column suggesting that marketers might want to figure out how to "monetize" dark social.

Which of course makes you want to burst into tears. Because if digital ad blocking and time-shifting of TV doesn't send a clear signal about how the public feels about being bombarded by advertising, what does? Virtual reality was still in prenatal care when the drumbeat started about how to crash it with advertising.

Now that NBC News is using in-home "robot" Amazon Echo to send election-oriented data, you know that ads will quickly follow. It’s as if we as an industry have a compulsion to inject ourselves into any consumption of media, entertainment, or public space where eyeballs might wander.

A clothing store in Auckland put metal plates onto benches so an ad would be "pressed" onto people's bare legs when they sat down. A music trade magazine installed seven strings and an amp inside a urinal so that people could make music with their pee.

Marketers have imprinted their ads on eggs, on sewer covers, foreheads, the inside of shirttails, and the bottom of swimming pools. A restaurant placed artificial clams on beaches with ads inside — and an agency won an award for chiseling a nine-ton block of frozen water to create a full-sized car (that melted in 12 hours).

We have all seen brilliantly clever one-off campaigns that delight and result in massive press coverage and awards. But they are never viewed in the context of consumers exhausted by the relentless tide of far less clever ad messages that assault them each day (some say 5,000 a day, but there is no hard evidence for this number). God help you if there was a primary in your state and your television viewing (and inbox) were overtaken by millions of dollars of political ads that seemed relentless (and redundant).

Even though it is your JOB to see what transpires in the media, advertising and marketing communities, you use ad blockers and spam blockers, you fast-forward through TV commercials, have probably only ever clicked on a mobile ad out of curiosity as a marketer and not a consumer, and you throw out nearly all junk mail and newspaper inserts before even seeing who sent them.

When was the last time you withstood a radio ad rather than switching to another pre-set? Yes, me too. My favorite local theater is an art house where not only are the movies better, there is no pre-show advertising and only one, maybe two previews.

I think all of us need to keep in mind the old axiom "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should." And when some vendor comes to you with a clever new way to assault the public with yet more ads, you might want to ask, "Why?"

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