How Much Marketing is Too Much Marketing?

We live in an increasingly pushy world.  Since the collapse of the advertising media – broadcast TV commercials and any form of print – that dominated the latter half of the Twentieth Century, the big scramble for eyeballs is on.  Marketing has lost most of its known boundaries.  With that, many advertisers have lost their sense of proportion, as well.

If it seems as though every visible surface has become a potential advertising medium… it has.  Perhaps it goes hand in hand with the diminution of “public privacy” that has accompanied cell phones and ubiquitous digital cameras.  We all have equal access now, and that, perhaps, makes it seem more palatable (or less avoidable) for advertisers to have more equal access to us.

But there is such a thing as going to far.  I predict that people will, increasingly, react against marketing messages that invade every space.  People want a certain percentage of unbiased, pressure-free content in their environment.  Cell phone apps are already taking advantage of this effect by putting intrusive ads on their Free versions, so they can offer to take the ads away if you buy the Paid version.

So, the backlash is there.  You don’t want to be the Ugly Marketer, the company the potential customers resent because of a totally no-class M.O.  The new marketing media put many temptations in front of us.  They offer terrific reach, wonderful targeting options, great tracking and measuring tools.  But like any other tools, they must be used wisely.

The primary rule is, don’t market to people in places or ways that they don’t want to be marketed to.  The technologies provide potential, but you still have to apply some human taste and good sense.

Which brings us to the two little unobtrusive ads above, each about 1/2 inch high.  How could those offend anyone?

What if I told you that they are two sides of a slip of paper that came inside my ‘lunch special’ fortune cookie, instead of a fortune?

It offends my sensibility to have something as fun (and traditional) as a fortune cookie co-opted for commerce. When I pulled this out of my cookie, and turned it over in disappointment looking for the traditional bit psuedo-wisdom, one thought ran through my head: “Somebody at American just has no class whatever, and they ought to be discouraged from this sort of thing.”

American Airlines just gave me one more reason not to fly with them.  (I suppose that if I were a loyal American Airlines fan, it wouldn’t have mattered.  But for an airline I was not fond of to start with, this was a bad move.) I’m also seriously re-thinking whether I want to eat at that restaurant anymore.

Marketing in inappropriate places has another downside.  It will gradually train people not to look at those places anymore, and to turn down their sensitivity to random communications in general.

So, before you spam, tweet, or buy fortune cookie space, look beyond the effect on your metrics and consider the effect on the target’s day.  Be somebody they want to do business with.