When Marketing becomes Mess

Keep it simple – offline and online advertising

Messy marketing and advertising

I have just returned from a two week trip to the USA – a ‘grand tour’ of the San Francisco Bay Area – Muir Woods, Sausalito, San Francisco, NAPA valley and a few very wealthy and beautiful surrounding towns.

Glorious, right? In fact, you probably think I’m missing it. There you’d be wrong.

Sure I miss the majestic view over the Golden Gate Bridge, and the warm beach sand, but coming back to England is a huge relief and most of the relief has to do with the fact that over here I have not yet reached what I call ‘Advertising Saturation Point’ (ASP).

I’ll explain what I mean in a little bit. Let me just put things into context.

Advertising, advertising everywhere

Advertising has become so much a part of our everyday lives that it is impossible to think of a world in which it does not exist.

According to Yankelovich, a market research firm, the average person living in a city sees up to 5,000 ads a day. They’re on stickers on the fruit we buy, on the sides of vans, on the radio shows we listen to, on TV, on the internet as online advertising, on clothing, in films…absolutely everywhere. This same market research firm says 30 years ago, people might have viewed 2,000 ads a day. That’s a big difference. And, in the words of Yankelovich’s president, Jay Walker Smith, “It seems like the goal of most marketers and advertisers nowadays is to cover every blank space with some kind of brand logo or a promotion or an advertisement.”

Whatever happened to the goal of developing a positive relationship with the viewer so that you could create a long-term customer? And never mind the cultural ramifications of an advertising-dominated world, what about the effectiveness of these advertisements? When there are so many of them, do they become ineffective? Do we actually have an ‘absorption point’?

It is my belief that when advertisements are incorporated into every aspect of our daily lives, they lose their effectiveness. They become ‘noticeable’, and not noticeable in a good way, but in the way a fly becomes apparent as it hovers over the food you’re eating – an absolute irritation! If this is the case, companies have got to adopt different tactics – perhaps return to those good old days when people heard about you because your service was excellent or because you offered superior products.

Personally, when I notice I am being actively marketed to I am put off. It’s like having a telemarketer ring me to try and get me to purchase a magazine subscription. I just don’t want to hear it, especially when the company does not know me and does not know what I want, and when they continue trying to make me buy after I have said no. It’s so blatantly selfish and selfishness is one thing I cannot abide in a person or a business. If marketing is a part of your job, make sure you’re advertising the company’s best points – quality products, a friendly service, or constant support. Better than that, get to know your clients. Find out what they want, find out what drives them. Once you know this, you’ll be able to connect with them on a deeper level and you’ll actually be selling the truth. What a novelty!

Now that you’re aware of how prominent a role advertisements play in our everyday life, let’s return to the focus of this article – ‘Advertising Saturation Point’ (ASP), the USA, and why I am grateful to be back in dear old Blighty.

As I said earlier, in the UK I do not yet feel that I have reached ASP. That may partly be due to the fact that I live in Ely and not in London, but I am pretty sure that’s not the whole story. I think it has a lot more to do with a particularly ‘American experience’ – being advertised to as a way of life and across every medium possible (Isn’t that what Hollywood does for America?)

Maybe it’s coming to the UK, or maybe I just haven’t noticed it, but back in the States, this is what stuck out to me and what made me absolutely aware of the fact that when advertisements come at me from every angle I have no tolerance for them, and worse, my relationship with the company doing the advertising is irreparably damaged. In fact, when I am advertised to across mediums which I expect to remain private or personal, I begin to get angry. At this stage I am acutely aware of the relationship between the company and my emotion. If your company is the one doing the advertising or if you’re trying to develop a brand – this is a bad way to go. Furthermore, if you’re allowing/hosting the adverts – poor show. Your reputation isn’t going to last long either.

Being Marketed to 24/7

So, what does the USA do so differently to the UK? For one, they allow mobile advertising. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I’ve not yet seen this in the UK. That is, advertisement pop-ups on your mobile phone. This should of course be differentiated from invasive mobile ads which are downloaded with various Android apps and that act as adware.

The advertisements I’m talking about are different. They are (I assume) okayed and allowed by the mobile’s network provider. In this case, it is Metro PCS. As my family back in the states are all on a contract with this company, these ads appear every time their phones switch to ‘screensaver mode’. Furthermore, if you want to resume normal phone usage, you have to actively dismiss the advertisements. If you’ve seen this before, let me know – tweet @XanthosDigital

Another place I did not expect to be advertised to was on my ‘tray table’ on the aeroplane. I was flying US Airways and yes they’re not renowned for great service, but really, isn’t that taking it a bit far? When I am most trying to relax with a drink or food, I am pestered with some more ‘buy buy buy’ rubbish.

And then, to top it all off, were the many calls my parents received on their home phone throughout the day. They weren’t just telemarketers calling, they were voice-automated telemarketers! When you pick up the phone a machine commences talking to you, asking you to answer questions, to provide information, or to simply listen so that you can be advertised to. This intrusion infuriated me and I had to bear it for only a few days. What about all the other poor people who have to deal with it every day?

But all this I could just about put up with, thanks to the ability to escape into the great outdoors (pretty much what sells the country – that and Hollywood). I only reached my Advertising Saturation Point on my connecting flight from Philadelphia. Never before have I been in an airport with so much advertising. For every strip of space between terminals or gates there were scores of shops, and each one had a hanging banner above it as well as a sign and then probably some more advertising pushed into the walkway. It was so overdone that I wasn’t able to find a single sign for a toilet. I had to ask where the bathrooms were, in an airport that should have had them every hundred feet!

You can’t imagine my relief when I landed at Heathrow, got out of the plane and headed for immigration – long walkways with nothing but a few banners in support of the Olympics, big windows looking out at the planes and the runway, and then through to the underground (the only place you’re really grateful to find adverts as they give you something to look at). I

My take home point here is simple: don’t overdo it just because you can. And remember if your marketing becomes too intrusive, you’re probably going to create a negative relationship with potential customers.

The same is true of online advertising and marketing, especially if you’ve got a website:

  • Have one prominent CTA per page – look into getting your website Conversion Rate Optimised if you do not already do this.
  • Avoid clutter – affiliate advertising might pay, but does it create customers? And really, does your homepage need to contain absolutely everything – a map to your business, your gallery of latest work, five offers and so on? The answer is no. That’s why you’ve got a website. An entire site for you to spread your CTAs throughout.
  • Be careful about overdoing surveys before you allow access to information. I’ve just noticed that www.synonym.com has started doing this. This was once a place I went for help and now, because they ask for information before they provide any answers, I simply click the back button and look for someone else.
  • Write or get someone else to write content that is useful and appealing to real people. Writing only for search engines does not endear you in the long-term to either Google (the dominant player in this arena) or real human beings.
  • If you do email marketing, make it real. Make sure that your subject line reflects the content of the email. And be sure to offer the people on your mailing list something more than they can find online. This might be a downloadable PDF, access to exclusive information, a discount coupon for your online shop, etc.
  • Furthermore, be careful when you get involved in online advertising schemes – affiliate marketing, link-building, etc. If you are going to do it, make sure you’ve vetted the sites, or that you choose a reliable company to help you do this. Do it badly and your website could get blacklisted.


With everything said, the real take-home message is this: keep it simple. Don’t over-advertise. Think of you customer. Think of the type of relationship you are building with them. Overall it should be positive. If you irritate them, it’ll be a lot harder to get back into their good books.