Too Much Ads: Maintaining Delight vs Inspiring Fatigue

CES 2015 is happening in Las Vegas as we speak, and accompanying some cool new invention unveilings and generally bonkers tech demos, we’re being introduced to ad innovations. Like this one, from TapSense: wearable ads ready to run in a hyperlocal format.

Image via Adweek (and via TapSense).
Image via Adweek (and via TapSense).

This is tantamount to blasphemy in certain circles, but I tend to treat first forays into advertising on new platforms with a degree of skepticism. There are bragging rights associated with premiering an ad on a new platform – a far more sophisticated version of the “first!!1″s that at one point littered comment sections – with good reason; being able to master something new is impressive, worth talking about, and gets you attention in the greater ad community. But does it make these first movers effective, from an ROI standpoint or even from a creative standpoint? Well.

Now could be a time to rattle off a series of first movers on multiple platforms, from Facebook Poke’s first ad campaign to Twitter’s, but there’s little point in this. Primarily, it’s unfair to those who are brave enough to go first, as everyone else has a bit more time to figure out what’s what. It also distracts from the larger point I’d like to make, which pertains not to these first few to debut creative on new platforms but, instead, the dozens that immediately follow.

It is almost too easy to advertise these days. People are increasingly easy to target, reach, and re-approach/re-target. Correspondingly, the bar is set ever-higher for what work actually breaks through and captures attention. One way to do this, as has always been the case, is to throw money at a campaign. Louder = better, surely. But particularly as we start to enter more spaces that could genuinely interrupt people’s everyday life – geofenced text ads, for instance, or ads on Google Glass or wearables – this strategy seems shortsighted.

There’s a balance to be struck between maintaining delight and inspiring fatigue. Christopher Heine, in his coverage of TapSense’s wearable ad debut, correctly points out that the platform is ideal for direct response marketing efforts. These are coupons, buy-now-and-you’ll-get pitches, etc; effective, but highly recognizable as ads. While correctly deployed direct response may, in fact, thrill someone – an overheated mall shopper receiving a free soda on a hot day – incorrectly deployed direct response is likely to feel like spam. This is always a danger, but somehow feels more acute when content is being beamed directly to one’s wrist.

My gut reaction is that people will be more protective of wearables and more likely to view marketing missteps as unwelcome invasions, inspiring backlash like that against Facebook ads (but even more pronounced). When you’re reading a newspaper, you expect to see ads. Same as when you go online. But in such a new device category, such expectations may not exist and, consequently, ads may be received particularly poorly.

My hope is that advertisers, when considering how to approach dealing with devices that broadcast ads so intimately, move measuredly, balancing haste with a desire to figure out the best approach. By “best” I mean something that works for both company and consumer; something that’s measurable and meaningful; something that’s both creative and uncannily effective. There’s a chance that, with wearables, everyone will want in; customers who are frankly on the cutting edge of tech use will suddenly be bombarded with well-intentioned, quickly-crafted offers that, in aggregate, feel like some sort of advertising assault. Ideally, we’ll all balance our desire to be first with our respect for customers and our desire to put platforms to their best possible use. Doing so would spare customers the ad fatigue and agencies the headache of once again having to abandon a platform we accidentally ruin for ourselves.

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