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03/09/2009 The End of Interruption Marketing


The IAB and others are working furiously to fix the wrongs of online advertising. Recently, initiatives focused on standardization, creativity, the economics of production, and more creativity hope to turn the tide and make online advertising as attractive as it was several years ago.

It seems to me that the IAB and others are ignoring the elephant in the room. That elephant is interruption marketing. It’s the foundation of the last 80 years of advertising and goes something like this.

“I know you want to watch this TV program (listen to this radio show, read this magazine). But you don’t really want to pay that much to enjoy it. So you watch and I’ll interrupt you regularly. If you really hate what I’m doing, go to the bathroom or change the channel. Don’t try reading something, because you’ll still hear my message. Is it a deal? Can I interrupt you?”

“I don’t have to pay anything? Okay, interrupt me.”

As we know the model worked best when we had fewer choices. The problem today, online, is that there’s no good interruption model, except maybe interstitials. And what’s worse; there so much free content out there that if someone really doesn’t want interruptions, off they go, and fast.

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I think the IAB and everyone else involved in this industry needs to rethink the interruption model. We’ve become good at tuning out the noise. I have no problem getting free iPhone apps because those little ads don’t bother me (I don’t look at them).

On the other hand, I’m following some folks on Twitter that are feeding me links to specials on golf equipment and travel deals. I’ve opted into those free ads, really, because they’re relevant to me. That’s why search works. I have a goal and search helps me solve it.

I think instead of asking people to pay more to skip ads, I’d like to see a system where advertisers pay people to opt in. This is pretty loose now, and smarter minds than mine would have to figure this out, but it starts looking something like this:

Advertisers, ad networks and sites need to work together to identify people and what type of products and services they’re interested in. The hook for people like you and me is that this group PAYS us for their interruption. Yes, you heard that right. They pay us, not the other way around. Let’s say they pay me $100/year and I opt in to see ads for hybrid cars, iPhone apps, family travel deals, electronics and men’s clothes. I might seasonally opt in for Valentine’s presents for my wife and holiday presents for my kids.

That payment might come in the form of online credit to Amazon, the iTunes store or Jet Blue. I would sign up for that in a second, as would many others.

Every time I surf, this consortium serves me ads from these categories. They’re relevant to me because I’ve told them what I want to see. If I see 1,000 ads over the year, the incremental cost to advertisers is 10 cents per ad. A laughably low number.

How can we make sure we don’t see a huge amount of shlocky ads from big-pocketed advertisers pushing out the little guys? Besides click-thru-rates how about implementing a Pandora like system to rate ads even if you don’t buy?

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By rating ads, it makes me more involved in the whole system.

This might be a totally crazy idea, and there are lots of structural reasons why it won’t work (like the fact that we Americans stink at collaboration, for example. Look at the European banking Giro system for an example of how things like this should work).

But it seems like the biggest issue we’re having is that we’re still pursuing interruption marketing at the expense of permission marketing

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