Not Tonight, Honey, I Have A Headache

Timing, as they say, is everything. This age-old saying appears to have been completely forgotten in today’s digital world: If you ask online publishers and advertisers when is the best time to reach a reader with a promotional message, the answer seems to be “any time.” And this, in my opinion, is the most egregious mistake that publishers are making in the way they treat their readers.

One could argue that the root of this problem is the fundamentally flawed assumption that reader and consumer are interchangeable terms. Unless you happen to be Amazon or Angie’s List, when I visit a website there is a high probability that the only thing I plan to “consume” is information. I am there because I want to read. I am there because I want to learn. I am not there to buy products, or even to learn about them.

I want to emphasize that this problem and the responsibility for its consequences, in my opinion, rest squarely with online publishers. Advertisers are doing what they should: selling their offerings. They are not in the business of entertaining or providing information–though many savvy marketers have figured out that doing so can generate interest and create loyalty. Marketers have also labored to understand everything they can about their target audience: where they go, what they like, who they follow, when they are most likely to pay attention.



Has any publisher given a fraction of this level of attention to understanding their readers? In my experience, many publishers do place significant effort in understanding their readers, but almost exclusively to the extent that it helps them figure out how to treat their readers as consumers. Do these publishers do A/B testing to see which ad placement is least annoying? Have these publisher ever asked their readers if there are any parts of the site or any time during the visit when readers would be less annoyed by ads? When evaluating the latest and greatest rich media ad format, have these publishers done focus groups to see how readers reacted to it? Are there any publishers who value net promoter scores above click-through rates?

Google deserves a bit of credit for promoting the idea of micro moments, finding the moments in our daily lives when we are most likely to be receptive to information about products.

As far as I know, they have not started talking about the micro no-no moments, when you should really leave people alone. Asking Google to guide publishers on best practices for when to present ads to their readers would be like asking the proverbial fox to guard the henhouse. And yet, as I have written previously, Google clearly does understand the value of not pissing off visitors, and has experimented with ways of making advertising less annoying on its own properties.

Another aspect of this situation that I find mind-boggling is that ultimately every publisher is a human being. I’m sure that even the most callous revenue manager gets annoyed if a telemarketer calls at 8 a.m. on Saturday or during dinner time. Have they not heard the concept of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”?

If these people were able to run advertising in the real world, I am confident they could come up with some genius ideas to find the moments when we are most likely to pay attention: billboards would be allowed to jump into the middle of highways as we are driving by; toilet seats would come with built-in LCD panels that only unlock after we watch a 30-second spot; and condom manufacturers... well, you get the point.

Not tonight, honey, this thing just gave me a headache.

3 comments about "Not Tonight, Honey, I Have A Headache".
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  1. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, May 12, 2016 at 12:13 p.m.

    Its not up to the publishers...we are always waiting in bed, eager and ready to please no matter what...for money our advertisers get our honey. The internet has always presented the greatest opportunity for advertisers to deliver just-in-time relevant messages to ready to learn or buy readers.

    Traditionally, automotive magazine readers have welcomed advertising that matched their reason for reading that publication. The Auto Channel viewer is no different, but after twenty years of trying to get the attention of the car ad agencies with an unequaled opportunity that would allow their clients to "speak" directly to our viewers through “Love Notes” which communicate the car compaines unique selling proposition as to why the reader should consider the purchase of a specific make or model, we have been shunted aside as the agency's child buyers spend billions of dollar on billions of useless impressions... The proof, total car sales have not increased because of the web, we believe that it is time to value (and pay for) a web site viewer in the context of a direct mail recipient as opposed to a TV viewer...oh well we have waited twenty years for this to happen, maybe it will sometime in the next twenty years, but there may not be independent publishers remaining in business  to run relevant and welcomed J-I-T ads...   

  2. Paolo Gaudiano from Infomous, Inc. replied, May 12, 2016 at 1:31 p.m.

    @Bob - I totally agree with you. Unfortunately the notion of just-in-time has been perverted to any-time. And ultimately that kills relevance and annoys the reader, to everyone's detriment.

  3. Bob Gordon from The Auto Channel, May 12, 2016 at 1:42 p.m.

    my question is can editorial publishers hang on until the know-nothings leave the scene?

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