Feed on

My current job falls roughly within the realms of “PR and Marketing.” Technically I’m in communications, though mostly what I do is business-writing, which suits me fine. Because the work that I do fits best in the pigeonhole marked “PR and Marketing,” I occasionally receive fliers and professional publications from the real PR and Marketing worlds which I find simultaneously fascinating and horrifying.

Because of this trickle of marketing-industry media, as well as other discussions of advertising that I’ve sought out on my own, I’ve been thinking about my own role as a potential “advertising consumer” and how well advertising works or doesn’t work on me. One of the big buzz-phrases I routinely encounter has been “viral advertising.” I’d like to begin with a digression, stating that I think this is just about the worst possible term they could have chosen to describe this technique, since viruses are agents of disease and nothing more. Then again, considering my own opinion of advertising, it’s ironically apt to consider stealth-marketing the spread of a disease.

The thing about vira/guerrillal marketing is that the gimmick seems to supersede the product. I can think of several viral ads, but can’t, without the assistance of Google, remember what they were promoting. There was the fake video of the bride chopping her hairdo off. There was the Subservient Chicken. There was a local one which was a series of protests against an “indoor sheep ranch.” These things were all very clever, got plenty of “buzz” going, but ultimately failed (in my case) as I have no idea what they were trying to promote.

Then there are somewhat more traditional ads on some webpages which work much like a TV commercial break, where you have to endure the ad playing before a video, wait for it to cycle through to the next page, or click through a series of ads to get to premium web content. Users may desire the content highly enough to bear with the advertising, but we tend to tune it out, just like we do with TV or radio ads. I read Salon from time to time, and click through their advertising sequences for a “Day Pass” to their premium articles, and I could not tell you the name of even one of their sponsors.

Other pages offer “content-attuned” advertising via Google or other providers, as well as subscription services like BlogHer. These ads are usually placed in sidebars or as a header or footer on a site. Anyone who reads websites very much will have a feel for where the ads lurk and will visually block them out. Banner ads hang along the top of a site, and smaller pictorial ads occupy a narrow, left-hand column. Subtler text ads frequently fill otherwise dead space in the lower-right corner of the page. I’m a fairly regular reader of the blogger Dooce‘s site, and I know she has a lot of ads. I know she’s taken a lot of heat for her ads at points in the past, and I know she makes enough money via ad revenue that writing an online diary is her paid job, but just as in the case of the viral and semi-traditional ads, I couldn’t name you one of her regular advertisers. I go to her site, see if she has posted anything amusing or especially crazy, look at a few of her photos, and go on.

Generally, what actually works for me, as far as influencing my purchasing tendencies, is real-life word-of-mouth. That’s how I have found out about a lot of bicycling equipment – I have talked to a friend who just recently got some really good gloves and she’s really stoked about how well they work. Or else I ask somebody who is into something similar – for instance, I have chatted pretty extensively with other amateur photographers about equipment. If I can check out the product directly, (listen to a song clip online, taste a free sample, or try it out at an in-store demonstration) I am more likely to consider it favorably, or at least make an informed decision about said product. Once in a while, I will check out product review sites, though that is most usually for things like electronic equipment, where I am looking for solid specifications as well as user-written and professionally-written performance reviews. I like to find out what the pros think, then what the average user-in-the-field thinks, and weigh those opinions against the stats of the product.

An example of how I have used the Internet and online communities for product recommendations would be the story of how I came to be a LUSH cosmetics customer. About 10 years ago, I began to be allergic to my regular underarm deodorant. I tried a few different off-brands and the ones that didn’t make me itch and have a rash didn’t…work. I was a member of the Hissyfit community back then, and I posted to the Fashion and Beauty board asking for recommendations for a deodorant that didn’t contain aluminum-chlorohydrate and which actually worked . I received recommendations for Tom’s of Maine (which works okayish, but requires repeated re-applications throughout the day) and LUSH. At the time LUSH was almost strictly mail-order, so it seemed like quite a gamble to buy deodorant from a website or catalogue, but I had heard really good things about their deodorant, as well as other grooming and bath products, so I figured I would give it a try. Nowadays, I am a firm advocate of their “crème” deodorant “Aromacreme,” which has a pleasant, lasting, light floral scent and is effective all day. I’ve been generally pleased with the majority of LUSH products I have ever used, as well. And, because I have been happy with their stuff, I have given their fancy bath products as gifts to my mom and sis, who also love fancy bath stuff, and have recommended their products to friends.

I don’t need some loud, flashy, colorful ad telling me that this camera or that fruit juice will change my life. I don’t like seeing billboards everywhere, or getting annoying jingles stuck in my head. If you make me hate your advertising song, I will hate your product. Similarly, if you anthropomorphize your food product that you are selling, I will be grossed out by it forever. M&M/Mars, I refuse to buy another packet until you take those creepy, googly-eyed cartoon candies off the wrapper. Most advertising is so annoying that I hate the product in tandem with hating the advertisement. Other advertising is so oblique or confounding that the product or message is completely lost. I find that I don’t want an ad; I want information about the product and its performance. Most advertisement does not give me useful information about the product, it “sells” me an image, bombards me with useless factoids, or tries to make me remember the product name, if nothing else. I don’t want or need that, don’t find it useful, and will turn away from the product if the promotion for said product insists on being irrelevant and annoying.

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