I’m sure you’ve witnessed the small cloud of summer gnats that gathers in streams of sunlight. Upon walking into the cloud accidentally, you wave away the strays that fly into your face. Two more steps and you’re out of the cloud. You’re OK if not a little annoyed. Imagine that the cloud of gnats follows you. Every time you blink, at least one gnat thinks it’s an invitation to fly into your eye.
I’ll be honest; I know close to squat about marketing through videos and images. I can, however, find a pattern. Some companies are following me around, and it’s creeping me out. Some companies are just advertising on any site possible, and it’s hurting their business. Let me explain.
The best example of this hyper-exposure is currently T-Mobile. Their newest commercials are on everything: television, streaming video websites, free games (I am a complete cheapskate), and they even show up beside articles with videos that begin at full volume as soon as the page loads (more on this later). I dislike their commercials with a stifled passion. I try to ignore these commercials in hopes they won’t annoy me while I’m waiting for them to go away, and yet that awkwardly uninteresting spokesperson shows up in every venue listed above. For any commercial, I mute or turn down the volume and pick up something to read. This is the only way I know how to wait out the obsession with one company until it’s replaced by another. Before T-Mobile dominated ad space, I was haunted by a deep voice saying, “My electric bill was breaking the bank.” I’ve seen these ads so much that I’ve been disgusted into dissociation.
Zulily likes to advertise to me. I don’t have kids, nor do I plan to have them, yet there they are. They probably thought I’d need baby clothes because I was noted as a woman. (And if this is indeed true then I’m insulted.) It started innocently enough; they showed up on the side bar of my hotmail. (Apparently I need to edit my ad block preferences.) I didn’t mind this; their banners are simple and artfully pleasing. While job searching much later, I found an opening at Zulily listed on a search site. Like any good job hunter would do, I went to their website and surfed around. The position was no longer available so that was that. I kept them in mind for future job hunting, but I didn’t need constant reminders of their existence right away.
Nevertheless, more Zulily ads sprung up on other sites. I understand that we’re given certain advertisements based on previous searches, but this actually becomes inconvenient. If I went comparison shopping for, say, carrots, having to continue looking at them would be the equivalent of someone from an advert throwing them at me after I’d already bought them. “You like carrots?! HAVE ALL THE CARROTS. For the next two weeks, all you’ll see is orange. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA!” It reminds me of Target’s customized ad; technique. The link provided is a piece describing how retail companies gather information on consumers to tailor ads to specific people, a practice that I know the internet is also doing; it’s a trend research for each and every individual’s habits. How Target altered this practice might not have improved. I know that companies have been researching consumer statistics for years. I just don’t like what they’re creating because of it and how they’re distributing these “reminders” of their existence.
This is how Target should advertise. Not this stalky, Big Brother, “You need us like you need to breathe” insanity. One look at a catalogue advertising Jason Wu’s haute couture collection and that was all I needed to know and love what was offered. Why do they only pause from treating people like habit machines when an important designer is working for them? They’re clearly reaching for sophistication, and did a good job of that with the current Alouette commercial, but if they want to differ from other big box stores, they will have to maintain this at all times so we consumers completely feel that this company is different.
I know that where I surf and the objects I’m interested in say something to the statisticians, but I don’t want to be haunted by my own internet-related curiosity, no matter how interesting or innocent it is. Some of these internet ads certainly appear because of my own doing. I showed the internet a slight interest in something, and the internet took that information as a part of who I was—nay, what I needed. It doesn’t stop at searches, though. On some blogging sites (the sites that do feature advertisements for free user accounts), certain ads pop up based on what certain words the user has posted.
On news and magazine websites, there’s a feature where a video ad loads as soon as its host page loads. Some of them scroll themselves in front of the article. Some of them expand and play when you mouse over them. Some just play on their own. The ads aren’t flashing “Look over here!” They’re making it a point to buzz right into you as you step forward. These are the most annoying ads of all. Call me lazy, but I don’t want to have to search for a Close button or Mute button, or even let my mouse spaz away from its resting place to minimize an image. I don’t want to be frightened by the suddenness of an unwanted, piercing, and hidden shock of noise. It’s a waste of my time.
What might be less of a waste of my time (but no less annoying) are commercials that I see on every single streaming video site, no matter what I’m watching or where I’m watching it. This is typically when I read. These sites must have a limited number of funding from advertisements because they’re milking these way too hard by overplaying them. What’s worse is that I see these commercials on the TV where I thought I was taking a break from the computer. I dare say, there might not be enough commercials in the world for the current assortment to stop repeating itself. On any channel, I often find at least one ad that plays during every single commercial break, on every single channel. Maybe we need an extra commercial for every commercial that currently exists. Maybe that will keep people from getting tired of it all and pressing the mute button. Maybe. Either way, as long as I have a book in my hand I won’t be watching.
Most of the internet advertisements these days are much smoother in design and better placed than the pop-ups of the past, but that doesn’t mean they’re less annoying. It doesn’t mean consumers like them more. Something should change, but I don’t know what.
I actually have gotten a gnat in my eye, and so has someone I know. (Coincidentally, each of these times happened at the exact same location on different years.) For a moment, I couldn’t see anything out one eye and was dependent on waiting for someone to take it out because we didn’t have access to any mirrors. The blindness represents the space advertisements take in our brains, and the waiting period for freedom is the length a commercial runs. None of it is comfortable.
The commercials I will actually admit to loving are for toys. They make me feel like a kid because I remember seeing them as a child and getting excited at the playtime possibilities. I’m still a kid in this regard (among other regards). Perhaps I should begin doing more searches around toy companies to receive advertisements that would please me.
Now, a word to the companies. I’m never consuming 5 Hour Energy or any gum, I’m never buying a truck or SUV of any kind, I don’t care which celebrities are endorsing which credit cards, every big insurance company is the same (really), and I’m a little disturbed by bears who are obsessed with toilet paper in people’s nether-regions.
Furthermore, if the internet knows so much about me, why am I not receiving announcements about good books? Take that, secret interwebs! While you’re at it, make with the carrots.
I really do need to fix my ad block settings. But when I do, I know every company will be scrambling to figure out how to push themselves once again into my peripheral vision and then to the forefront. In the meantime, I’m going to read a book.
Edit to add, Apr 14th: Ms. Mandy Brown similarly wrote about this in her post on an advertisement’s interruption with the readability of a website in one of the best blogs in the world, A Working Library. I discovered this post just today, weeks after posting my own. Great minds write alike?