Outside In: Attention Must Be Paid


It's 9:00 p.m. - do you know where the eyeballs are? If you said watching prime time, there is a very good chance you would be wrong. Recent statistics show that people are now spending as much, if not more, time online as they are in front of the television. Yet the Internet continues to be a neglected medium when it comes to brand marketing. Over and over again, brands are failing to engage consumers. In spite of the beautiful tools and platforms for creativity that technology and new media offer, most brands struggle to deliver truly groundbreaking and compelling work.

Let's face it: When it comes to media engagement, consumers are angst-ridden and noncommittal. It is a problem that we discuss and theorize about on a daily basis. How do we get the attention of such an ornery bunch and keep it long enough to engage, entertain and provide a unique brand experience? The market is challenging us to find ways to connect with consumers online, yet, invariably, online advertising looks like a wasteland of bad billboards on a rural highway.

What are we doing wrong? There are a host of issues. Online advertising is all about making a powerful first impression and creating an entry point into our brand experience. However, far too many online ads contain mixed messages in the ad units, are inconsistent with other brand messages and are absolutely intrusive to the user experience. Instead of making a good first impression, these ads are actually pushing people away.

To understand the root of the issue, I look at the relationship between the consumer, the context and the message. First, consumer expectations are at an all-time high. New technology is enabling and empowering consumers who, as a result, expect to interact on their terms, not the advertisers'. Modern-day consumers demand direct, intuitive and relevant advertising. Because they are busy and have short attention spans, adding to the clutter and litter online will only make it that much more difficult to break through to them. Brands that have paid attention to these expectations are better poised to make an impact. I can still recall a Starbucks ad unit on that ran over a year ago: It was a basic box unit with a simple three- or four-word message. It didn't use excessive rollover, require me to leave my immediate environment or take over my screen. It was simple, it was relevant and I paid attention.

The next thing I try to dissect is the context and message. Online ad units do not afford a lot of creative real estate in which to work. And in any channel or context, creatively, we want to make the most of what space affords us - especially since these types of placements very often bear the scale of a brand's message online. And in making the most of that space, brands tend to pack a lot into placement and completely ignore the environment in which it will live. Facebook, for instance, is one of the platforms that fueled consumer expectations in networking, creation and collaboration. But outside of the various widgets, the ads on Facebook are, at best, weak. A lot of the ads cram too many messages in the ad unit and do not take into account the context or the mind-set of the people who spend countless hours on the site. They call to mind those cluttered ads where a local advertiser decided they had to get every little bit of information about their business into one tiny quarter-page
ad in the back of small regional magazines. At worst, the advertising
message directly interrupts or detracts from a person's experience.

Before we completely aggravate consumers, more brands should apply as much rigor to their online creative as they do to other channels. It should not be considered an afterthought or something separate from other brand messages. It should be relevant, simple and seek to enhance the context in which it lives.

Jahna Lindsay-Jones is director at Denuo, a futures consultancy and division of Publicis, where she works with clients on strategy development. (

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