Anne Holland

Stop Scary Ads at the Beach: How Relevancy Can Save the World We Love

MarketingSherpa is headquartered in Rhode Island, which makes getting to New York meetings a pain, but at least we all live near the beach.

Last Tuesday evening, I was strolling down First Beach in Newport admiring the sunset when I came upon an amazing sand sculpture of a beach-bound family in a Volkswagon Beetle. It was obviously created by an artist, which made sense because Newport sometimes sponsors art at the beach.

But, when I stepped closer to admire it, I discovered a little placard bearing VW’s logo and the slogan ‘Drivers Wanted.’ This wasn’t purely art; it was an ad.

I’m used to planes flying over the beach trailing ad banners — generally for liquor. But hadn’t seen sand ads before. I laughed, how clever! Maybe I should write about it for Sherpa….

Then, yesterday evening as I was strolling down another local beach, I saw another big sand sculpture. Even from a distance, it was quite obviously the most incredible sand castle ever. However, this time I didn’t step closer to admire it.

Instead I felt myself shuddering. I feared discovering a corporation had sponsored this “art.” I didn’t want my innocent delight in the sand, sunset, birds, and waves besmirched by commercialism. It was profoundly distasteful.

All the way home, I wondered, how can we as marketers continue working in a world where nothing is sacred. Where college students line up to have ads painted on their foreheads. Where you can’t ever get away from someone trying to sell you something.

Then it hit me — what makes ads work is highly targeted relevancy. If you send me an ad, via my preferred medium, about something I’m deeply interested in, it’s not an ad anymore. It’s a useful alert. I’m grateful and excited to get the message.

Example: sending a miniature railway enthusiast a note when the newest caboose is ready.

However, it’s easier as marketers sometimes to shout more loudly and wave our arms around in the mass market then to build and manage the database marketing systems that a truly relevant campaign requires.

Example: a simple text email offering discounted child helmets to parents who bought a new bike for their kid in the past 36 hours will work better than a singing and dancing rich media video superimposed over the world’s largest parenting Web site.

The point: without advanced targeting systems, useful CRM, and excellent database marketing, we’re stuck in a nightmarish future where ads take over the earth like cockroaches. A world where everything’s a promotion and everyone’s eyes glaze over because who wants to be bombarded with crud 24×7?

Ok, rant over.

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