A Solution to Intrusive Advertising

(Many of these blog posts originally appear as newspaper columns, including this one, which is why there are references to you reading this piece in a newspaper.)

I saw an interesting ad by a famous graffiti artist named Banksy. It's a lot of text formatted in the shape of a Coca-Cola bottle on a red background, raging against advertisers who constantly shower us with ads in public, and then complain when someone uses those ads for their own artistic purposes.

"They have access to the most sophisticated technology the world has ever seen, and they bully you with it," said Banksy's ad. "They are The Advertisers, and they are laughing at you. You, however, are forbidden to touch them. Trademarks, intellectual property rights and copyright law means advertisers can say what they like wherever they like with total impunity. F--- That. Any advert in a public space that gives you no choice whether you see it or not is yours."

(Update: In what may be an ironic twist, the words were written by Banksy, but the bottle design was created by Karina Nurdinova, a graphic designer from Italy. I say ironic, since she took Banksy's intellectual property, and, well, touched it.)

Banksy builds to a soul-stirring crescendo that demands orchestral music to swell in the background, while he rides a horse and roars his battle cry to the army about to storm the gates: "They owe you. They have rearranged the world to put themselves in front of you. They never asked your permission, don't even start asking for theirs."

It's his last point that's most interesting: advertisers have changed our world so they can shout at us.

They shout at us from buses, billboards, and the sides of buildings, cluttering up our scenery.

They shout at us on our TV shows, our radio stations, and even our DVDs.

They charge $30 for a t-shirt with their logo, making you pay for the privilege of advertising to your friends.

They put dealer stickers on the backs of our cars, to tell everyone behind us where to get one just like it.

We've gotten so used to these assaults, we tune them out. We develop new technologies to skip their TV commercials, and they whine about our efforts. So advertisers look for new ways to force themselves on us.

They're parasites who would, if the technology existed, leach their way into our dreams.

Don't get me wrong, I understand advertising is necessary sometimes. For one thing, it supports this newspaper. You wouldn't have a newspaper to read if there weren't ads in it. The same is true for magazines and TV networks.

But you also have the option to not look at them. You could avoid reading a newspaper or magazine. (If anything is going to get me fired from this paper, it's that last sentence. So don't do that to this paper; all others are fair game.) You could change the TV channel during ad breaks, or record shows on your DVR and fast forward through the ads. Or, you could just not watch TV at all.

Rather than accept that we don't like them, advertisers fight our attempts to escape, spending millions to keep shouting at us, because they can't take no for an answer.

It's gotten so bad that many people are cutting their cable and satellite subscriptions, and paying $8 a month for Netflix or Hulu+. They borrow DVDs from the library, and watch videos on YouTube.

On my work blog, I have offered a better solution to advertisers, but I wanted to share it here: I will spend 30 minutes watching your videos and commercials, reading brochures, and considering your promotional material for $100.

I won't promise to buy anything, because that's not what advertising is about. An ad is not a guaranteed sale, it's an attempt at persuasion. I already get to choose to say no, so I still maintain that right.

Think about it: big brands already spend $100 or more a month just to get a single person to see one of their ads somewhere; I'm doing everything I can to avoid it. Each month, they just wasted another $100, and I won. They didn't get what they wanted, but still spent $100 in the off chance that they might snare me for 30 seconds in front of the TV.

But if they give me $100, they will have my undivided attention for 30 minutes, which is 29.5 more minutes than they're getting from me in a total month. I'll watch, listen, and read, and then we'll go our separate ways. I may or may not buy their product, and we can even do this again the following month. They've spent the same amount of money, and will have met their immediate goal of getting me to see all of their marketing material. It's a win-win.

Besides, if I decide to buy the product, I'll use the 100 bucks they just gave me.

The second edition of Branding Yourself: How to Use Social Media to Invent or Reinvent Yourself (affiliate link), and my other book, No Bullshit Social Media: The All-Business, No-Hype Guide to Social Media Marketing are both available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Books-A-Million, or for the Kindle or Nook.


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