Dangerous, Dated Conceit #3: Assuming An Advertising Audience

We now work amidst a cavalcade of technological and social changes that actively assail the long-reliable notion of an aggregated audience for advertising messages.  Instead of simply worrying that some portion of the audience may leave to use the bathroom during their commercials, advertisers now face DVR’s, DVD’s, Hulu, hundreds of niche channels, and the ugly reality that in poll after poll, the number of respondents claiming to actively dislike or avoid advertising never dips below the mid sixties and frequently soars far higher.   TV viewers recognize advertising as the tax demanded for their free entertainment, but new technologies make it easier than ever to avoid them. Besides, who likes taxes?

Today's Audience Is Far From Captive
Today's Audience Is Far From Captive

Online advertising fares no better. Last year, the online pollsters at VIZU conducted a survey of 2000 internet users where 72% said they found advertising ‘annoying’ or ‘extremely annoying.’  Wow. Given the amount of free tools available to help people avoid our messages–RSS feeds, online aggregators–merely placing an ad means far less than it once did. And remember, this environment is a huge Brandfill: last year, advertisers threw up 3.6 trillion banner messages online. Written out, that’s 3,600,000,000,000.  In layman’s term, that’s a lot.

And as for print, well, we’ve been reading print’s obituary for the past five years now, although the stubborn cuss refuses to outright die.

As Howard Gossage, advertising’s own H.L. Mencken and a man who never once wrote a TV ad, was fond of saying “The real fact of the matter is that nobody reads ads.  People read what interests them, and sometimes it’s an ad.”

When you can’t assume an audience, it forces you to adapt your strategy from informing first to engaging first.  Engagement must be the primary mission of advertising messages these days because now, more than ever before, the audience has options.

Be interesting first.  Being engaging is step one.  Without it, there is no step two.

By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79

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