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Your advertising makes me want to kill myself: the cost of free media

Our entire planet now runs on an ad-supported model and it’s making me want to kill myself. It’s impossible to exist and not be subjected to advertising from companies trying to get you to buy the stuff they’re selling. There is no escape. Ever. Except death, and I’ll bet they’ll soon have ads inside coffins on the off-chance you wake up.

Like drug addicts, humans have become addicted to free media — from television and radio, to online news and social media platforms. While we rarely pay a cash price for the content, we always pay with attention. It’s called interruption-based advertising, winning attention with one thing and interrupting it with another.

The companies providing the free media are selling our eyes and ears to companies wanting to sell us stuff. We’re ok with that for two reasons: firstly, everyone loves free stuff, and secondly, we’ve trained ourselves to ignore the adverts. Seems ideal.

Not so fast with the happiness: ignoring them is bad because you create a vicious cycle. The better you get at ignoring the ads the harder the advertisers push to get your attention.

Interruption-based advertising is evolving into invasion-based advertising. Our move to digital content consumption, be it digital text, television or radio, has brought with it a wealth of tools that enable us to avoid the advertising. DVR decoders, ad-blockers and paid-streaming are all there to help us avoid consuming adverts.

You may think that our ability to block adverts is a good thing, but it isn’t. The content is only available because of the adverts and if you aren’t consuming them then you aren’t ‘paying’. If you’re not paying there’s a good chance the content will no longer be served. You lose.

Do you have a moral obligation to consume adverts to keep the content streams flowing? Hell no. The problem lies with the producers of content and the advertisers. They have to find new revenue models or, more likely, better ways for advertisers to reach the audience in a non-interruptive and non-invasive way.

This is no easy thing though because it requires advertisers to care about the consumers of the content (which they don’t do now), it requires agencies to think beyond 30-second slots and banner ads (which they don’t do now), and it requires publishers to partner with advertisers to create content that serves as an advert delivery vehicle. Adverts that have so much value that the target audience chooses to consume them (which they don’t do now).

It is no longer acceptable to force your advertising on people. It’s not OK for your advert to only be relevant to one percent of the people who are forced to consume it. It no longer matters what you want to say, it only matters what the consumer wants to hear. And if they don’t want to hear from you, respect them enough to honour that.

When you’re able to create a piece of content that your target market chooses to consume, even pays to consume, you will have succeeded with your advertising. Simple really.

Author | Craig Rodney

Craig Rodney
Ruggedly handsome space-explorer, philanthropist and part-time haberdasher, Craig Rodney proved to the world once and for all that he was impervious to pain when he founded Emerging Media at the tender age of 26. Craig’s dynamic approach and creative problem solving style catapulted the company into the realms of... More
  • So, what you’re saying is that you want to kill yourself because of advertising on free websites? Banner/video ads are annoying and frustrating, yes, but saying it is driving you to suicide is a little bit too sensationalist for my taste.

  • cmyplay

    Is everyone to blame here? Viewers who ignore adverts because it robs content providers; Advertisers because they don’t create advertising that viewers would want to see?

    There is already a change happening in the “traditional” new media advertising world. Things like the LAPA Hoofkarakter Soektog – which turned the marketing effort into content for the product – or the Thomas@rock-ster.net young adult reader – which brought the book’s world out into reality through interactive digital story elements. Here’s more detail on both of these projects: http://blog.cmyplay.com/lapas-next-step-in-transmedia-storytelling/

    This sort of Transmedia Storytelling is becoming the way to provide value to viewers through the advertising effort for many companies around the world. If you don’t believe me, check out the TEDx Transmedia event happening in Rome later this month: http://www.tedxtransmedia.com

  • Hi Francois
    I was making a point about the state of advertising and about being forced to consumer adverts for things I don’t want and will never want. You don’t have a choice in the matter at all, the world belongs to them and your only choice is to ignore as best as possible.
    I get your point about being sensationalist, it was deliberate to highlight my argument. If advertising continues to invade our lives it might not be that far fetched. Think about spam sms’s / emails, cold calls at night, adverts intruding a rugby game, branding that offends you (alcohol, cigarettes) being forced on your children, ads that intrude on websites – all where you have no way to opt-out or stop it.
    Anyway, thanks for reading and commenting.

  • This is fantastic – thanks for the links, they’ll keep me busy for a while. Definitely wasn’t blaming everyone, the companies that get it and are creating great content are already winning and they deserve it.

  • cmyplay

    Oh, I see. In that case, I agree with you about that.

    Advertisers will have to follow the viewers. So if viewers are ignoring the advertising that IS going out, advertisers will have to evolve. The only problem I see is that the onus will be on advertisers to convince clients that this is how things should be done moving forward.

  • The trend that irritates me is advertisers investing their collective creative energies into finding new ways of interrupting, forcing and tricking me into consuming their advert. They should be investing in getting me to CHOOSE their content, to want to consume, communicate, etc. Someone who chooses to listen is 1000x more valuable than someone who is forced to listen. Thankfully the smart guys are figuring this out.

  • Mark

    Craig has a point…its the constant calls to my cell phone which make me want to load my gun……its getting out of hand !

  • Brattstar

    I blame the media buyers. They come up with these so called AR’s (and other useless acronyms) which they force down their clients throats. The actual people responsible for the media spend are not the same guys responsible for the buying of said spots/slots and so we get Tampon adverts during rugby games (for example). The issue isnt the advertising, its the large amount of misleading taking place by Media Buyers to marketing/brand managers. But I hear you Craig, it is becoming out of hand. And they wonder why there is a proliferation of piracy… its so we aren’t forced to watch Tampon adverts :)

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