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December 14, 2010

Willing to buy, don't like to be soldCompanies are gathering as much data as they can on the individual consumer. Companies that have that information are selling it or making it available often times in ways contrary to their promises. The consumer is figuring out how to fight back. Where is advertising going?

It seems to me that we are heading down some rocky roads when it comes to advertising and how to “reach” the consumer.

  • Google is giving its own sites priority in their search results (evil!)
  • Facebook “inadvertently” (right!) sent individual identities to advertisers
  • Advertising companies are “screaming” at Microsoft for putting in “do not track” function in Internet Explorer 9 – which tells everyone they should have it
  • The government is looking at regulating who can track what – that aught to be useful (NOT)
  • Print companies are scrambling to figure out how to “monetize going digital”
  • Advertising clients are moving budget dollars from traditional to digital advertising including e-books

My theory on this is that consumers are quite tired of having advertisements “pushed” on them. They know where to get what they are looking for and an Ad is not to be trusted any way. While I speak only for myself, I’m not convinced that I’m all that different than other consumers when I say that I don’t trust ads (I almost never click on the paid ads of a search), I’d rather find the information I want when I want it, and I don’t want it in my books, papers or articles. I will ignore most of what even looks like an ad and if I do notice one, I may even decide that the ad was intrusive and avoid the seller even if I am looking to purchase something.

I’ve concluded that most people (certainly not all people) do not like and will avoid information that is pushed on them. If that’s true, then all the frantic action by the retailers, marketers and advertisers to find new ways to generate ad dollars or sell products are going down the wrong path; it may well backfire. Instead, they might want to expend energy to make sure that the consumer of your product or service can find you quickly and easily.

Here’s the evidence I see for consumers “fighting back.”

  • The success of the “do not call list” to stop the intrusions
  • The liberal use of “fast forward” to get rid of the ads in recorded media
  • The increased use of smart phones to scan product bar codes and download competitive pricing for your product
  • Consumer pressure on Microsoft to go ahead with “Do Not Track” despite the crying advertisers who are predicting the usual doom and gloom. Do you trust them?
  • Reliance on colleague testimonials rather than ads – and anger over employees acting like they are consumers providing testimonials

Slowly, I am moving away from the printed word. I no longer take a newspaper, instead I have my own digital news source that gives me what I want and ONLY what  want. I have started listening to the “Word for Word Audio Edition of the Economist”  instead of reading the paper version. My books are now on Kindle or Google e-readers more often than not (except for the occasional gift and the occasional publisher sending a new book for review). I even read books and news on my smart phone now (never thought I would).

So I get why those who pay for advertising and those who do the advertising are in a panic. I understand why they are feeling desperate. And, I think their responses are off the mark. What would life be without the advertising? Can’t imagine it? Nor can I. It won’t happen. What will happen is you won’t have to push the ad on me. Instead, you will have to work hard to make sure that I can find you and the solid, accurate and useful information you provide will be ad enough. You just have to make sure that your bar code is readily available so I can scan it and get the information I want about your product – otherwise I’ll purchase someone else’s product.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: “No one likes to be sold. Most people do like to buy.” So the question is, how do you make it incredibly easy and rewarding for me to buy? Can I find you? Do you have good solid information or just a bunch of fluff? I don’t think things are all that much different between B2B and B2C these days. So what are you doing to make sure you’re staying out in front on this? There is no “new normal.” There never really has been a “normal.” Everything is changing, including the way we get our messages out to the folks who want to buy our products and services.

Comments (1)

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  1. David Salahi says:

    Like you, I’m very wary of ads both online and off. I rarely click the ads in search results and I studiously ignore them when they appear alongside content that I’m reading. Personally, I’d prefer to pay for content that I really want than to have it be advertiser supported. For example, I listen to a number of podcasts which are free but I still donate because I want them to continue. Similarly, I rarely watch ad-supported TV (even with a DVR). I get most of my TV commercial-free on DVD these days.

    But I can understand why companies are scrambling to try to replace print and TV/radio ads with web ads. The payoff from the old ads is dropping rapidly. Meanwhile, online ads can be much more targeted. And recent history indicates that most people expect online content to be free. However, I think that may need to change. The problem with advertising online is that the amount of ad space available is nearly infinite. This is one reason why ad revenue online is so low. Granted, ad space on the NY Times website is worth more than space on the OC Weekly site. But the amount of quality content on the web is only going to increase and, with it, the potential ad space.

    At the same time, some companies, like the Wall St. Journal, are making money online. The Journal occupies a specialized niche but the web is full of such niches, both narrow and broad. I think that many companies are going to have to consider charging for premium content.

    This doesn’t address the question of ads for products other than entertainment or other information-based services. Manufacturers and the purveyors of other services still need to reach their marketplaces. In this case, I agree that businesses are going to need to make their products easy to find and also to provide good solid information about them. The desire for such information is evidenced by the proliferation of online consumer-written product ratings such as are available on and Personally, I’ve found such reviews very helpful in making product choices. Manufacturers are going to adapt to this reality that such pre-sale information is becoming ever easier for consumers to access.
    Dave S.