Cutting through the Clutter

A recent article by Owen Gibson in the â??Guardianâ?? (entitled ‘Shoppers eye view of ads that pass us by’) uses a recently developed set of spectacles connected to a video camera and recording device to monitor the amount of marketing messages the modern consumer is exposed to. To cut to the chase, Owen saw 250 adverts during a 90 minute journey through central London, for more than 100 brands in over 70 different media, (and this is before you factor in any spam texts or emails that might fall into his inbox’s during this period).

And the number of adverts he could recall, unprompted?


Perhaps Owen is less observant or more forgetful than Mr or Mrs Average, but even still this shows just how ineffective advertising is becoming in getting our attention, let alone soliciting our engagement. Bruce Mau, in his design tome â??LifeStyleâ?? asks, “what is the focus of the new image infrastructure?” His Answer? “Attention – It’s all designed for capturing, tracking, quantifying, manipulating, holding, buying, selling, and controlling attention.” In many ways he’s right – the biggest battle for advertisers has been to get our attention, which is why marketing messages now occupy every real and virtual surface we come into contact with. Maybe marketeers and designers are just playing the numbers game? So what if only 7% of a TV audience pay any attention to your advert and an even smaller percentage actually act on it? Maybe that still represents a worthwhile conversion rate.

My own suspicion is that most organisations are still indulging in mainstream mass advertising because they are scared not to. They think that they will be conspicuous by their abscence. Of course there is probably a marketing campaign in this itself, if a major world brand suddenly became invisible. But it can only be done once. As with the multi-media displays in bus-stops and the vinyl floor graphics in the shopping mall, the first people to exploit a new channel make some small gains, but it instantly becomes another channel we develop an immunity to. In the excellent film â??the Corporationâ?? Naomi Klien talks of an interview with David Lubars, a senior ad executive in the Omnicom Group, who explained to her that in his opinion consumers “are like roaches – you spray them and spray them and they get immune after a while.”

So has mainstream advertising become a very expensive way of standing still, of keeping up with the Jones’s and making sure the competitors don’t sneak a lead? I work with several organisations who indulge in fairly mass, untargeted marketing, not because it has any quantifiable positive effect on their business, but because they need to be ‘seen’ to market, whether that is by competitors, funders, vested interests etc. It has slipped into uncontested ‘common knowledge’ that any competent organisation should ‘market’, in the same way they should keep good accounts.

Business suffers all round from unthinking acceptance of processes and procedures, as much in marketing as in any other aspect of the organisation. If you are interested in a list of alternative things you could do with a years advertising budget, and which could generate not only attention but an engagement with your organisation, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

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