Pitting Consumers Against Marketers

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the columns that have been written so far for The Online Spin and the threads on The Spin Board that have been spawned as a result. Running through the selection of topics on The Spin Board, I see that some of the most popular threads deal with topics like the Gator controversy, the consequences of annoying advertising tactics, the effects of excessive ad clutter and the merits of permission marketing.

There is a common theme to all of these discussions. The controversy surrounding them springs from one central source: a turf war pitting consumers against publishers and marketers.

A consumer accesses the Internet by investing in an access device (typically a PC) and an access provider (typically an ISP). To access the Internet, a consumer makes an investment in ownership (the PC) and a service contract (monthly access to the Internet via their ISP). If you want an analogy, buying a PC is somewhat like buying a house and paying $21.95 a month to an ISP is the equivalent of hooking up the house to cable TV.



Publishers and marketers see the Internet as a channel of communication whereby they can engage their target audience with, among other things, commercial messages. There is nothing wrong with this view. Most consumers wouldn’t take issue with the idea of using the Internet for commercial purposes, but they do take issue with the manner in which commercial messages are delivered.

To continue the house analogy, if you are a commercial entity that sends unsolicited commercial email (spam), you are sending an unwanted message via a channel that the consumer, due to his investment, views as his own private property. In the view of the consumer, you are the door-to-door salesman who trespasses on private property in order to make a sale. Some consumers don’t mind door-to-door salesmen. Others can’t stand them and act appropriately.

Many of the most annoying online marketing tactics are deemed annoying because they don’t respect the consumer’s turf. Lack of respect generates resentment – sometimes rightly so. Think for a second about consumer tolerance for any of the following and note that each tactic represents a lack of respect for the consumer’s turf:

- Spam
- Scumware
- Changing a consumer’s home page without permission
- Excessive pop-ups, pop-unders or “exit-stitials”
- Ad traps (e.g. – clicking one pop-up ad away spawns two more in its place)

All of these tactics, to one degree or another, make temporary or permanent changes to something the consumer considers his property. While we have the technical wherewithal to implement them, we should also stop to think for a minute about whether we should implement them. Can you imagine how consumers would react if we somehow managed to deploy technology that would disallow changing channels on a TV set during commercials?

I’m always hearing a lot of talk about how our industry needs standards in order to be able to attract investments from traditional marketers and advertisers. But I have yet to hear anyone mention or propose standards for engaging the consumer online. Shouldn’t we first decide on the accepted rules of engagement?

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