Wednesday, April 2, 2008

The Marketer's New Clothes: When Ad Clutter Isn't Clutter

One of my pet peeves with marketing these days is the constant search for ways to plaster logos and advertising everywhere under the guise of "new media." Each time someone discovers an unused corner of the world, such as parking stripes or the blades of snow plows, they declare it a bold new ad medium.

As if that's not enough, each new "medium" (and never has that word been used so loosely) is declared to "cut through the clutter". It's like the Marketers New Clothes (to borrow from Hans Christian Anderson): Patently untrue statements are simply taken at their word as overzealous press release language gets dumped into news articles without any vetting on the part of journalists.

I ran across an example of this today. A company called Media-n-Motion was mentioned in a Hollywood Reporter article for their role in promoting Martin Scorsese's Rolling Stones documentary "Shine a Light." Their contribution to the ad business is to turn the clean silver sides of tanker trucks into rolling billboards.

The comment that elevated my blood pressure was that tanker advertising is, "a whole new way of breaking through the clutter, especially on gridlocked freeways." How does littering a clean, unused space with decals count as "cutting through the clutter" rather than adding to it?

What's especially galling is that the reason advertisers are exploiting the unused surfaces of trucks is a moratorium in Southern California on new billboards. Stop and think about this for a second: Consumers are revolting against advertising blight, with billboard moratoriums in place or under consideration in Pittsburgh, Arkansas, Georgia, Wisconsin, and elsewhere. (Vermont, Hawaii, and Maine banned billboard more than 30 years ago.)

So how do marketers take the lead on this issue? Do they demonstrate concern that consumers are combating the rising tide of advertising? See the challenge as an opportunity to seek out new ways to reach consumers in a manner they'll welcome? Explore new experiential strategies that create brand experiences consumers appreciate?

No, they pick at the scab. They follow the letter of the law while violating its spirit. They look for loopholes to extend the infestation of advertising that consumers are growing to find so offensive. In short, they acknowledge the growing backlash against advertising by finding more ways to advertise.

Why should consumers trust marketers who exhibit so little care for their wishes? And why would marketers expect consumers to think better of brands who deliberately seek the seams between laws that limit the ubiquity of advertising clutter?

It's all a question of creativity and engagement. It is not creative to put another boring print ad or brand logo on the fronts of laundromat washing machines, snow plow blades, car trunks, and corn fields. I would not, I should add, merely throw out any and all use of this "media," but the brand must have the right needs that match the particular medium. For example, a hybrid car campaign could be launched on the side of tanker trucks, promoting that fewer such trucks would be needed if everyone chose a green, fuel efficient car. But to treat the side of a truck as just another billboard surface is unimaginative and easily overlooked.

What is creative is to find a way to engage consumers with an experience that promotes and advances the brand. If marketers valued experiences rather than mere brand impressions, there would be no laws limiting advertising; they wouldn't be needed. Wouldn't that be a wonderful world for both marketers and consumers?

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