You hear this a lot: “I hate advertising.” Most of the time that opinion is based on either display (transit/billboard/etc) advertising or, even more often, online advertising. The thing is, you don’t really hate advertising. You just hate how it is done. Before I get into that can of worms and how ads can be done well and in a satisfactory way for all parties concerned, let me point out a benefit for the consumer who really isn’t interested in what you have to sell.
Advertising subsidizes content. Ads in newspapers and magazines pay for MOST of the publishing costs so you don’t have to. Subscription costs don’t cover all that much – which is how magazine companies can charge you those special rates of $1 per issue (if you subscribe TODAY!). The primary reason for subscriptions is to show the potential advertisers how many people may reliably see their ads in a given month (quarter, whatever). These subscription numbers help make a magazine (or newspaper, or website for that matter – although you can substitute “hits” for “subscriptions”) valuable to an advertiser and those numbers determine how much a publisher can charge the advertiser for the space. This also holds true for buses and bus shelters/subway cars and their stations/trains and train platforms, etc.. The ad space is rented from the transit authority by display ad companies who then rent the space to advertisers. This helps to keep your transit prices from shooting into the stratosphere because the transit authority can use that rent to offset the cost to the consumer. It isn’t a perfect system, but it does, in fact, make a significant difference.
Back to the potential consumer/client:
One major problem with online advertising is this: we get followed around from site to site with the same ads yelling at us to buy the thing we’ve already looked at. That doesn’t really advertise anything. It is a nagging that can get really obnoxious very quickly. For example: I like taking photographs. I visit a lot of photography blogs, watch photography YouTube videos, and go to Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama, etc. to price lenses and equipment that I could never really afford. The problem is, I then get followed around by ads from Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama, etc. featuring the very same lenses that I was looking at. I already know what I want and where to get it. It is a waste of time and money for these companies to follow me around for a week or two telling me things I knew before the ads started. I was the one who started the chain of events by going to Amazon, B&H Photo, Adorama, etc. in the first place. I don’t blame these companies, for they have merely fallen into the online advertising trap and its lousy algorithm. But there is a solution to be found for this particular form of advertising. And it lies with the first retailer I mentioned. No doubt you’ve browsed something at Amazon and under the item you are interested in, there is a list of other things that people who have looked at this item have bought. This is the kind of thing that should be happening all over the net. I shouldn’t be seeing the same Canon 35mm prime lens following me around… I should be seeing the other things that people who have bought (or at least perused) the Canon 35mm prime lens or seemed interested in it.
Of course, this doesn’t solve the most basic problem of these ads – that you are being followed from site to site with the same ads from retailers that you already knew about. Other than retiring that kind of ad, I don’t really have a solution for that. I do, however, have a suggestion as to how advertising can be more effective yet less obnoxious.
The great thing about the older model of advertising, and what made it most effective, was that it was relevant to your audience’s interests. Local papers (or national papers with local sections) would make you aware of sales and services that you may need or may not have realized you needed or wanted until you saw an ad that a company or person placed. The ads were relevant to your locale and helped stimulate the local economy. Magazine ads would be relevant to the audience of a magazine (for the most part… personally I don’t much care for perfume ads in cooking magazines – I think it makes it hard to get excited about a recipe for pumpkin pie when all you can smell is lavender and musk). Ideally a space representative for a publishing company will target agencies that specialize in that magazine’s market and sell space to advertisers who are relevant. This helps the advertiser not waste his or her money targeting the wrong people. This is something that is woefully lacking in online advertising. You either get ads that hold no interest for you whatsoever, or you get ads that are so obnoxious about trying to sell you something you already know about that you get turned off by them. The algorithm controlling the placement of ads is lacking in human understanding – what makes a person respond to an ad and why it should be there in the first place. It is getting better, but it simply isn’t good enough.
We are, at first embarrassed and then annoyed at the person who tells the same story over and over. Online advertising in particular has become that embarrassing friend who is quickly sliding into (if it isn’t already there, considering the vitriol against the field you see online) being so annoying that you’ll soon stop inviting them to your parties.
People hate things that are obnoxious – you hate the jerk in the room who is spouting off their opinions at the top their lungs when you simply don’t care about the topic in the first place. Advertising has become really good at yelling, but is getting really bad at selling. It needs to re-find its center. A place where you can tell a person who may be unaware that you have a product or service they may need and not know about. A way to suggest to the consumer what company can improve their life or happiness with their wares without annoying the heck out of them.
We are grateful to the friend who helps us find something that makes life easier or increases our personal happiness. Advertising in its best form is that friend. When it is, you are happy that you saw that ad… so happy that you acted on its advice. That is an ad you DON’T hate. And if you see an ad that doesn’t necessarily interest you, you should still be happy it is there. It is making the magazine you are enjoying, the train you are riding, or the website you are reading that much more affordable. How can you hate that?