Thinking beyond disruptive advertising

A lot of advertising strategists are talking about the way traditional “disruptive” advertising is failing to keep pace with the ability of people to bypass it. Disruption has been the goal of most advertising for the past century or more – stop people doing what they were doing, and plant your message in their way instead. On TV, this manifests itself as “ad breaks”, but with Sky+, who watches these any more except at 30x speed? Your audience is just saying no, don’t get in my way or I’ll go somewhere else.

Most of your advertising will be disruptive. The unrequested direct mailshot. The magazine ad breaking up an article. But have you noticed these are producing poorer results than they once did? Without knowing it, we’re all developing ways to blank them out and get on with what we’re doing.

The typical reaction in business-to-business marketing is “but my products will help people to do their jobs better, so they shouldn’t resent the advertising message”. But they’re not stopping to see if the message could in fact be useful, they’re just assuming it won’t be, and ignoring it.

There is another way. It’s a lot harder to do, but it involves advertising without getting in the way. On TV, it used to be the only way to advertise; it was called product placement, and it’s making a big comeback, especially in movies. In business-to-business marketing, it involves finding out where people are actively looking for products like yours, and joining in the conversation. In a way, trade shows have always done this. Online, it means taking part in forums and blog comments, or doing pay-per-click advertising, where your ad only appears where it’s wanted (alongside a search for that product).

Last week, to promote a website which was receiving a few dozen visitors a day, I went on a major forum where people were discussing ways to achieve exactly what my website offered. In a genuinely helpful post, in which I offered some other tips, I also mentioned my website. The result? Over 4,000 visitors in a single day. Not only that, but in the forum’s “thanks” feature, dozens of readers “thanked” me for the post. When was the last time any of your clients thanked you for an advert?

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