In Your Mind, Not in Your Face

Are Internet ads intrusive? Yeah. Annoying? Affirmative. So what? If you don’t like them, you can make them go away. You don’t have to buy what they’re selling. Remember that the next time a big X10 ad pops up in your face.

Consumers have never had it so good. Marketers have never had it so tough. The challenge? Get into their minds — not into their faces.

Seth Godin agrees. “Eighty percent of TiVo owners zap every commercial,” he told me over lunch the other day. “On the Web, hardly anyone is clicking banners. Digital audiences don’t have to accept advertising.”

Or, advertising they don’t like.

BadAds lists a number of criteria defining a bad ad. Number one? You can’t turn it off. With the exception of some (now rare) infinite-loop porn sites, there are precious few interactive ads users can’t summarily dismiss. Talk about empowered!

When I checked the definitions of “intrusive” on Merriam-Webster, WordNet, and other lexical sites, my browser emitted a barrage of pop-ups for “The Largest Casino in the World!” and our friend, the X10. I shot ’em down, feeling like a highly skilled sniper and savoring the irony.

If only other ads were so easy to eradicate. Julian Haight, chief SpamCop, is snowboarding in Tahoe this week. When I spoke to him on the phone, I made appropriately envious noises as he described the landscape. But one thing marred the vacation for Haight. “I wanted magic sunglasses for the drive,” he complained, “so I didn’t have to see all those billboards.”

This guy makes his living zapping spam messages by the millions. What can’t he turn off? Billboards. (This is a good place to mention spam is not what’s being discussed here. Spam is more than intrusive; it’s much, much worse.)

Billboards are intrusive. Cities, counties, and states try to block them with legislation. Unscrupulous outdoor media companies have been known to slice down trees to erect them. They mess up your view, and there’s even a publication covering “light pollution” from outdoor advertising. And you’re calling Web ads intrusive?

Does the time it takes to click away a pop-up compare to the ankle you twisted running to get the telemarketing call? Does it compare to missing the document you were waiting to receive on the fax machine because the paper supply was sucked dry by junk? Ever call your voice mail long distance (or click call waiting) to listen to a telemarketing pitch? That’s intrusive. Those ads cost time and money beyond bandwidth. And unlike on the Web, there’s no free content in exchange.

Web users are not a captive audience. Marketers need to understand the medium and plan accordingly. Annoy them, and your ad disappears (users disappear, too; publishers take heed). The Web isn’t a plane in which video commercials play — with audio over the PA — for hours. It’s not a movie theater, at which you pay $10 for entry and get 30 minutes of commercials before the feature starts. It’s not a “Clockwork Orange”-style elevator ride, courtesy of the ominously named Captivate Network.

Intrusive? What about ads embedded in your child’s school curriculum? Consider fast-food chains invading school lunchrooms and corporate-sponsored educational materials.

A Radio Shack opened near my bus stop. The store installed speakers outdoors. My morning routine no longer includes NPR on the Walkman, The New York Times, or a quick call on my cell phone. The music — and Radio Shack ads — are much too loud to permit that.

I’ve written to the store, to Radio Shack’s corporate offices, to the city’s Department of Environmental Protection, and to the community board in an effort to lower the volume. I haven’t heard back from anyone. Meantime, I’m voting with my feet and buying batteries at Staples.

Too bad I can’t vote with my mouse. Click — it goes away!

Note from the editors: Due to Presidents’ Day in the United States, ClickZ won’t publish on Monday, February 18. We’ll be back on Tuesday, February 19.

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