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Is It Time To Stop Advertising?

Last week I passed a moving kid at the side of the road, where cars sped by at 80km per hour. He was wearing a red sandwich board that screamed, “BUY ONE GET ONE FREE,” and had clearly been given instructions to dance about to attract more attention. I was 200 metres past him when I realised he was advertising the unremarkable pizza place on the other side of the road. The dancing sandwich board guy made me question the value of advertising once again.

Advertising by definition was never designed to deliver either value or joy.

advertise (verb)
1. to announce or praise (a product, service, etc.) in some public medium of communication in order to induce people to buy or use it: to advertise a new brand of toothpaste.

2. to give information to the public about; announce publicly in a newspaper, on radio or television, etc.: to advertise a reward.

3. to call attention to.

Perhaps that’s why we’ve grown to resent it and how it interrupts us so much, not because we are more intolerant than past generations but because we have a choice to pay attention or not. How does it make you feel when a popup appears on a website’s landing page as soon as you arrive? Or when you answer the cold caller as you are stir-frying vegetables at 6pm?
Probably not how you want your customers to feel.

Fourteen years after Seth Godin wrote Permission Marketing it’s still okay to interrupt people without any context, for one reason only.
Because we can.

That was never a good enough reason to make people care. Today if we want to survive in a world with unlimited choices we’ve got no option but to work harder to make the right people care more.

I once had a client who came to me having spent $6,000 on an advert in a glossy magazine. She knew the magazine’s circulation numbers, but she didn’t know who she’d reached. The phone didn’t ring once afterwards. I think she chose to advertise because it felt safe. Because if you’re in business that’s what you do to get customers and survive. Maybe that’s why the worst kind of advertising still exists, because businesses are scared that the phone won’t ring today?

I’m sure the dancing billboard sold a few more pizzas that evening, but we didn’t miss not seeing him on the side of the road the next day. And we only care about his pizzas (or those of the three other takeaways within a 5km radius) when they are 2-for-1.

Image by bcline.