Ad:Tech as a Metaphor for Our Industry

In last week's column, I mentioned Dave Chappelle's comic skit on how the Internet is like a shopping mall. Anyone who's viewed Chappelle's raucous bit can understand why his perspective is so similar to that of many casual Web users - not to mention more apprised industry observers. Many of the people we try to reach online simply don't like our industry or its tactics.

With a scurrilous-looking dwarf "popping up" with body part enlargement come-ons, Ron Jeremy suddenly appearing to offer all manner of unusual animal act viewing, and other characters offering free music, software, etc., the Chappelle skit humanizes what happens every day on the Web to millions of American consumers.

If nothing else, I think this skit illustrates with sharp humor how broad the divide is between the view most consumers maintain toward our industry, and the view most of us maintain. Chappelle struggles to walk through the many interruptions in his "mall" without being able to complete what he was there for, and he finds it nearly impossible to leave. Like it or not, laugh or not, this is how many Web users view our world.



I thought about this divide the first time I descended the stairs at Ad:Tech last Monday. On the first landing were booths lining the way, clogging the way, keeping me and anyone else among the 6,500 attendees from doing anything except look at these booths and their hired models... or drink beer from the keg one of them had tapped Tuesday morning.

I don't mind so-called "booth-talent" as much as many people (and most women) do. I figure that any company that sells to both genders using "talent" labels themselves as, well, not very creative, and probably not very smart. Alienating half your audience while drawing others with a come-on having nothing to do with your product seems like the lowest common denominator marketing to me. I'm pretty confident that it does to most other people too.

One venture capitalist I spoke to told me that he'd been discussing what he derogatorily termed an HCI, or "Hot Chick Index" as he discounted the valuations of many companies he visited during the show. "If these bozos can't do better than that, and they're receiving funding, it's clearly getting pretty late in the cycle."

An interesting viewpoint, don't you think? This comes from someone who decides on investing many millions of dollars in companies. He was disgusted.

Double entendres can be cute, but only to a point, and seldom when written across the breasts the marketer expects you to stare at. If an Ad:Tech attendee wanted to attend a session and they were running late from the main lobby or a meeting, they were doomed to be 10 minutes late from the bottleneck created by the zoo on both the first and the second landing from these booths. Some probably saw the metaphor as monetization of traffic by companies who do that online. All I saw was clutter. I'd be curious to learn how much actual business these companies drove on the first two days.

To me, it was as unfortunate as it was a corollary to how the rest of the world - like Chappelle - regards our industry. Many Web users probably feel as exploited as Ad:Tech attendees probably did. If you attended, did it bother you, or did it excite you that you were captive at those intervals while walking to and from the show?

As much as I enjoy the excitement of these shows and what they reflect about the industry we all make our living in, I think that such exploitation is just a shame. It's also unnecessary for marketers who can use their minds to make a better effect. To be blunt, if this is how we sell to each other, how can we expect to be perceived beyond Chappelle's image of us to the outside world?

Many in our business look to so-called "best practices," which are intended to separate the good players from the bad and isolate those who don't play by the rules. Too often, Web users who primarily visit only reputable, branded sites are exploited by spyware companies and others who somehow access their hard drives via pop-ups or other means. We can all do better. As our industry grows up, so to speak, the window we provide on it should be our best foot forward. I'm not addressing this to the conference organizers, and it's silly to blame an "industry." I think many of us could use a good look in the mirror though. Of course, that's just one man's opinion. What's yours?

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