When Consumers Love Advertising

It’s difficult to imagine a time when advertising wasn’t ubiquitous. It’s hardly inconceivable this has left consumers feeling fed up. Those of us perverse enough to actually enjoy and appreciate advertising are in the minority. To the vast majority of people, advertising is perceived as just plain irritating — or worse.

A good amount of research attests to this, but results of a new consumer study conducted by marketing service consultancy Yankelovich on behalf of the American Association of Advertising Agencies (AAAA) are particularly alarming. According to the report, 65 percent of survey respondents “feel constantly bombarded with too much marketing and advertising,” over 50 percent “avoid buying products that overwhelm them” with advertising, and 33 percent “would be willing to have a slightly lower standard of living” to live in a society without advertising.

These figures were released last week at the association’s annual management conference. Needless to say, marketers are squirming.

The report’s timing is rather interesting, given other news briefs publicized in recent weeks. CBS, in many ways a traditional network, confirmed it’s considering adding product placement opportunities to its scripted programming, following Fox’s and The WB’s lead.

The network has garnered attention already with product placements in reality shows such as “Survivor” and daytime soaps. Now, with digital recorders threatening to reduce the effectiveness of standard TV spots, CBS is wisely seeking to expand on this success. It may not be long before we see Ray Romano brandish a Crest SpinBrush or “The King of Queens” opt for a Coke instead of a beer.

It isn’t just TV networks that are thinking outside the box. Two weeks ago, Burger King launched a Web site to promote its chicken sandwiches — and sparked a media frenzy. Subservient Chicken is a clever play on the concept of a raunchy adult Webcam site. It features a human in a chicken suit and garter belt willing to do the viewer’s (PG-rated) bidding, based on typed commands.

Granted, the concept is bizarre (I’m not sure if the creators should be granted a Mensa membership or locked away). But the site does a great job of driving home the chain’s consumer promise and famed tagline, “Have it your way.” Reports indicate the site has received well over 40 million visits to date. Whether visitors later ran out and bought a chicken sandwich remains unknown.

Initiatives such as CBS’ product-placement plan and Burger King’s obliging chicken may soon influence advertisers in search of their own less “offensive” approaches to consumer marketing. Though some experts speculate consumers could be just as insulted by these techniques as by TV spots and pop-ups, they are unique. That could be enough to incite advertisers who fear negative feedback from mainstream media to give them a try.

This is where interactive marketers have the advantage. Online, opportunities for creativity abound, not only in media buying but also in publishing and production. Viral marketing is one technique that can be most effective when used online. E-mail enables forwarding links and contest entry forms to dozens of friends at once (Hotmail’s rise can be attributed to this, as can Subservient Chicken’s popularity).

Branding a product through nontraditional means is another approach. One may not associate a car manufacturer with a star-studded cinema production, but BMW’s Internet film series The Hire was so popular the first time around (in 2001), the company has since produced a second season of three new films.

When it comes to creating today’s advertising, whether online or off-, all marketers should understand a few things. Consumers are more sophisticated than ever and have more technology at their disposal. We may have done lasting damage to some media, such as email. Challenges may lie ahead where certain online formats and TV spots are concerned. But we can overcome clutter and irrelevance with creativity and customization. There’s an audience of tech-savvy consumers with the potential to appreciate elevated ad concepts. They make the possibilities virtually endless.

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