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the Big Blog Company | The cult of advertising strikes again
“Who yer callin' a sparrow, you schmuck?!”
The bird on the back.
November 22 2004
Monday
The cult of advertising strikes again
Perry de Havilland • Marketing & PR • Syndication 
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That advertising professionals see pushing advertising at people as an inherently ‘good thing’ is hardly surprising.  However I often think that whereas it is possible to measure the click-through and sales conversion rates from an on-line advert, how can you measure how many people are annoyed and antagonised by an unwanted advert that has been plopped in front of them?  Obviously you cannot know if a person decides not to do business with you because they are annoyed by your intrusive advertising which is trying to distract them.  Yet the notion that interruptive adverts are a net good (if you will excuse the pun) in pretty much all situations is accepted as an article of faith by most businesses.  So much for the primacy of metrics, eh?  Yet just because the irritation an advert might cause cannot be easily measured does not mean it does not therefore matter.

But it seems to me that yet again we need to remind ourselves that the job of an advertising agency is to sell advertising to companies, which is not quite the same thing as the company’s objective, which is to sell its products…

Which brings me to syndication and the bright idea to insert ‘contextual’ advertising into the RSS and Atom feeds.  With the advent of a news aggregator built into Yahoo, syndication is starting to reach the mainstream.  A certain amount of on-line advertising is tolerable and in some contexts adverts may even be welcomed, provided it is just banners or Google ads and not idiotic intrusive pop-ups or malware (the later of which is clearly quite literally criminal under EU data protection laws). 

Yet stop for a moment and ask yourself why is it that many people use the various forms of XML syndication such as RSS or Atom.  The reasons vary of course, but in a word, it is all about control.  Power surfers like to be in control of what they see and where they will spend their valuable and finite eyeball time and news aggregators offer exactly that control, giving a lordly overview of their favourite sites which is spam and interruption marketing free.

And so how, exactly, do you think such a person will react to someone telling them that far from being in control of what advertising they will be subjected to, adverts will now be fed into the feeds they pull in regardless of their wishes?

Well let me tell you how I will react the first time I see an advert in an RSS feed I have flowing into my aggregator.  A single word will do:

Unsubscribe

Of course in the long run this intrusion by the priests of push will just create a market for news aggregators which strip out the advert that the source of the feed has so ‘thoughtfully’ provided.

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