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How information overload, data glut, and media excess will lead to consumer revolt and an end to marketing, advertising and public relations as we know it.
 A fateful day is coming when there will be no more advertising, marketing, or public relations. Why? Simple: we’re killing our industry by being too successful at it. 

The communications field keeps finding new ways to send sales messages to target audiences, and by utilizing these new methods to the maximum extent possible, we are strangling the effectiveness of all media. Quite frankly, marketing intrusiveness is out of control.

Ads Beyond Counting.

Some reports claim you’ll view 10,000,000 ads in your lifetime, yet with new communication channels and new techniques of marketing, that number is probably under-estimated.

Sponsored data is built into your mail, e-mail, Web sites, video games, online games, magazines, newspapers, newsletters, and media broadcasts. Ads are delivered by TV, radio, phones, outdoor boards, private vehicles, and transit posters. Marketing messages are sprayed on walls, chalked on sidewalks, printed on condoms, acted out in the streets, waiting to ambush you in restrooms, and beamed at you from electronic displays of every shape, size, and description, including sound-emitting urinal cakes.

Viral creations contain ad messages. Word of mouth advertising (WOM) is expanding fast. Channel One delivers commercials to kids in schools.

In stores, RFID (radio frequency identification) chips track your purchases. Watch TV and your selections are tracked. Online, every click is monitored. That information is available for sale, so demographic and psychographic data can be accumulated and you, the targeted consumer, can be more accurately reached.

Sponsormania.

Phrases like this emerge from your radio and TV: “Welcome to the Nextel Halftime Report, brought to you by Toyota.”  They might reel off a whole string of sponsors for a ten-minute programming segment that features interviews with players and coaches wearing corporate logos while standing in front of electronically shimmering backgrounds displaying other corporate logos. The way we’re going, we can soon expect to hear: “Welcome to C-SPAN’s coverage of the Halliburton Congress, brought to you by Bechtel.”

Ads by the Pound.

Grab the Sunday morning newspaper. Weight: 3.4 lbs. Remove the advertising booklets, inserts, leaflets, flyers, announcements, mini-magazines, and the classified section. Remaining weight of news sections: 1.2 lbs. But each of these sections also contains ads. And some entire sections could be viewed as ad-oriented, such as Entertainment, Style, Food, Real Estate and Automotive.

Most of us don’t begrudge the puffery in the movie or TV sections, but we’re blurring the line between information and marketing in all other areas of the paper.

In an “article” on a new car were the following phrases: “…unique charm… head-turning good looks along with outstanding usefulness… exceptional headroom… feeling of spaciousness… Definitely a good buy.” Mileage was reported to be 22/city and 30/highway. Hardly impressive, yet the article concluded with “attractive gas mileage” as one of the vehicle’s features.

I think money changed hands to get that favorable review. Or there was pressure on the writer to state everything in a positive manner so the auto maker as well as their dealers will take out more ads.

We’ve gotten used to these things in the auto, movie, TV, cooking, lifestyle and home sections. But now they’re happening in every section. Indeed, they happen in every aspect of today’s communications.

The Pay-To-Say Society.

In advertising, marketing, and public relations, editorial and news coverage is now available for a price. We are in the “pay-to-say” society.

Consider:

  • Authors interviewed on TV: the time has been bought and paid for.
  • That lighthearted TV show roundup of the best kitchen appliances: the products have been “placed” in the program (just as the clothing, cars, restaurants, cameras, TV sets, furniture, dishware and other products have been placed in movies and TV programming).
  • That model/actress/hunk/entrepreneur on a magazine cover: the space has been sold according to a rate card, just like an ad.
  • That “news report” on government support of education: the entire mock documentary was written, produced and distributed by the people who want to shape your opinion.

You may be reading this on a Web site that places ads all around the text and/or links to ads embedded in the editorial content, just awaiting your unsuspecting cursor to roll over them.

If you’re reading this in a magazine, an RFID may be inside. (For that matter, there may be RFIDs in the lining of your jacket, in your shoes, in your jeans, or in that pack of gum in your pocket.)

The Truth: On Sale.

I once ghostwrote an article for a coalition of companies that made polystyrene products. Their industry was facing problems over the waste issue and they needed to have an upbeat but corporate magazine story about how dedicated they were to recycling. So I was paid three thousand dollars to state their case.

Since I was supplied with tons of input and interviews, the article was full of facts and figures about the miracles of their recycling process, the enticingly high percentage of re-used product that the industry could accommodate in its manufacturing processes, and on and on.

What wasn’t in the article was one teeny tiny little fact: there was no means of collecting the used products in order for any of this recycling to take place. That minor detail negated the underlying point of the propaganda. Oops, I mean informative editorial piece.

With the improprieties of Jayson Blair and Judith Miller came doubts about the print media. These doubts grew after learning that Jeff Gannon/Jim Guckert, a male prostitute, was allowed to penetrate the White House press corps so he could lob softball questions to the president’s Press Secretary.

The main problem with all of the “advertorial” placements, made-up stories, and outright lying is obvious. What is left for anyone to believe? With everything becoming an ad, people will start to turn away from ad messages in greater numbers.

The NASCARizing of Everything.

We’ve all seen and made fun of the maze of logos on NASCAR vehicles but now other sports are mulling the idea of ads on uniforms and equipment. Horseracing, the NBA, all sports are considering it.

The digital age has already enabled ads to be placed where ads don’t actually exist. For example, there are continually-changing billboards behind the batter in televised baseball games. That would be distracting to the pitcher, so they don’t appear in real life, only on your TV screen.

There’s a new magazine called “Other Advertising” dedicated to the new forms of advertising intrusiveness. That’s where I read about digital outdoor billboards that sense the FM station playing in your vehicle and change the display to match demographic choices that align with your choice of programming.

American Technology Corporation’s HyperSonic Sound system and Holosonics’ Audio Spotlight are perfecting the ability to direct audio messages to individuals passing nearby. So, for example, based on the RFID chip in your purchases, each person in a checkout line would hear a different ad. (Full disclosure: there is a message about ATC’s HSS system in the song “Paranormal Radio” on my ELECTRO BOP album.)

AdverInfoEduTainment.

When I first wrote about the ways advertising messages were being placed inside almost every activity in the universe, I ended the article with some predictions that many people found outlandish, including:

  • Debit card scanners in TV sets, so you can order during a commercial with the flick of your remote.
  • Barcodes in songs, so you can download from iTunes or Real Rhapsody by swiping your XM or Sirius player with your Visa or MasterCard.
  • Credit cards built into wristwatches.
  • Interactive ads, where you get to star in a five-minute escape from reality.
  • Holographic projections of commercials from postage stamps, car and house keys, magazine covers, etc.
  • Microchips embedded under your skin, so YOU will be the receiver for TV, radio, satellite, telephone, and global positioning system signals

I was interviewed on many morning radio programs about how Big Brother might take over all forms of communication. This made for humorous drive-time banter, but what some people overlooked in my list of prognostications was the fact that every one of them had already come true by the time the article was published. They’re not all being used in the marketplace due to high costs, but the announcements of their existence have been made.

Ad Industry Usefulness.

Without advertising, marketing, or PR, vital communication is thwarted and sales suffer. Company payrolls are cut and jobs are lost. Industries like manufacturing, packaging, transportation, and retailing are all hurt. Without us, parts of the economy evaporate like a puddle of water on sun-baked concrete.

So, what do we need to do? First, let’s own up to what’s going on. We justify things by developing highfalutin’ names like “branded entertainment,” “product integration,” “street teaming,” “buzz marketing,” “positioned journalism,” “secured placement,” and the like. But when faced with intrusive technology for your marketing messages, ask yourself if you’d like to be assaulted by it. Let’s treat consumers like someone we know. Let’s treat them with respect instead of like a mark, a patsy, a rube, or a flock of sheep.

Second, can we attempt to insist on wit, taste and genuine humor in the ads and PR we create?

We advertisers are, at best, invited guests into people’s homes or the public space. At worst, we are party crashers or unwanted intruders. And we’re overloading everything with annoying messages.

Imagine if we behaved in this manner in our daily lives:

“Hi, Shirley! My good morning message is brought to you by Henderson’s Hardware, for all your home improvement needs.”

“Thanks, Jim! My Have-a-Nice-Day reply is courtesy Magnum Magnificence, your best choice for a complete line of lighting fixtures. Come to Magnum Magnificence and see the light.”

Before it’s too late, I hope we all see the light.