Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
March 8, 2012 8:32 AM

The Paradox Of Choice And Advertising

You can't have it both ways.

Someone is going to have to break the bad news to the consumers. You can't have it both (and every) way. Sorry. Yesterday, I Blogged about the "do not track" button that would stop media companies from tracking an individual's online usage (you can read more about it here: The Do Not Track Button). Consumers are up in arms about having their every online move tracked and monitored, so that more relevant advertising can be thrust upon them. Yes, there is a fine line between knowing what someone is doing online and knowing who, exactly, is doing it and, if we give those marketers that inch, they may take it the whole mile and that's the Pandora's Box of problems that few want to open up.

But what do consumers really (really) want?

In yesterday's Research Brief by MediaPost there was a news item titled, Too Much Advertising Is Digital Suicide. Marketers are being told in a new research report titled, 2012 Digital Advertising Attitudes Report, that: "UK adults and U.S. adults aged 18+, show that 27% of British, and 20% of American consumers online would stop using a product or service, such as the social networking site, if they were subjected to too much advertising. This, as 66% each of British and American online consumers already claim they feel subjected to excessive digital advertising and promotions." What they're saying is: "yes, we know it's free but if there's too many ads, we're gone... we don't care."

So, what do these consumers really (really) want?

Are you ready for this? Sit down and take a deep breath. Here's what the news item says: "to make the US user more likely to respond positively to the marketing, the advertising must be:

  • Tailored to the consumer's personal interests (26%)
  • Contextually relevant to what they are doing (21%)
  • Specific to their location (19%)"

Go back and re-read those three key bullet-points.

The only way that advertising will be acceptable and work, according to the consumers, is to know their personal interests, make it relevant to what they're doing and be specific to their location. Sorry, kids but that can't happen if you click that "do not track" button. To me, this type of research and these types of insights reminds me of Steve Jobs' infamous line: "because customers don't know what they want until we've shown them." Ultimately, if consumers don't want to be tracked but do want the kind of advertising that can only be delivered when they are being tracked, perhaps it's incumbent on us - as a marketing industry - to spend a lot more time in the advertising lab and in conference debating, hacking and inventing new and informative ways to build a strong advertising world. It's clear to me, that this massive paradox that the consumer's are presenting is not going to help us get anywhere. I too would like to become a millionaire without doing any work, but alas that's simply not the way to make money. Comparatively, consumers will never get that kind of advertising delivered unless marketers can know what their interests are, where they're going and where they are located. Or am I missing something?

Yes, it's frustrating, but these are the consumers and we're the ones who will have to figure this out. Any ideas?

By Mitch Joel