When does advertising cross the fine line between consumer engagement and disruption?
Billy Corgan, Chicago restaurateur and frontman for the rock group Smashing Pumpkins, has quietly won a decision in a battle over that very question.
After recently opening Madame ZuZu’s Tea Shop in suburban Highland Park, Ill., Corgan learned his 4-foot-tall-by-13-foot-wide storefront window sign was five times bigger than what was allowed by the city’s zoning ordinance.
Corgan wrote a letter to city officials arguing that his neon-illuminated “ZUZU’s” sign is not distracting to drivers, does not compete with traffic signals, and the advertising nature of the sign is crucial to attracting customers who drive by the tea shop. City officials agreed with him last week and granted Corgan permission to keep his signage.
This story triggered a memory from the spring of 1996 when the Chicago Bulls were making a run for their fourth of six world championships. Popular area men’s clothier Bigsby & Kruthers featured a 32-foot-high painted mural of renowned basketball rebel Dennis Rodman on the side of a building along Chicago’s Kennedy Expressway.
The advertising changed the color of Rodman’s hair on the mural every few days and even depicted him wearing a suit with cut-off sleeves tailored to accentuate his heavily tattooed arms. The result? The ultimate gaper’s nightmare when the murals pretty much stopped traffic heading into downtown each morning for more than two weeks. Advertising engagement met advertising disruption head-on when an additional 40 minutes was added to what is normally a lengthy commute on the Kennedy and Edens expressways, and the experience was compared to a bad road-construction project.
“Look, honey, his hair changed from red to green overnight.” Engagement. “For those of you driving on the Kennedy, you may want to consider a reroute to Elston and Milwaukee avenues due to the backup.” Disruption.
The verdict was informally ruled as disruption when Bigsby & Kruthers decided to paint over the likeness of Rodman and repaint him on the other side of the building so he could been seen at a distance only by commuters heading out of the city.
Two case studies across 17 years. Has any clarity been shed on when the engagement-disruption line is crossed? Perhaps outdoor advertising should be a separate conversation, because these contacts can impact driving safety and human lives. And so can texting, reading paperbacks and applying makeup while driving.
But what about digital media? Most of us marketers hope our online executions turn heads and grab attention. However, the lines can grow blurry when those same executions can intrude on a consumer’s ability to consume Web editorial content.
Advertising often works best when it is a synergistic extension of the reader’s/viewer’s editorial consumption and when information is delivered seamlessly to an information-seeking mind-set. Likewise, advertising fails when it is not seen, ignored or forgotten.
In response, digital marketers are moving more and more away from standard banner ads toward executions that online surfers cannot avoid because the ads either come first or ultimately block a user from the site’s content. Is that wise? Ask five different online marketers the meaning of the word “intrusive” and you will likely get five different answers.
What cannot be neglected, however, is the necessity to always give consideration to the consumer experience. We must take off our “expert” hats and listen to the opinions of the most important voices, and those are the ones we are trying to reach. The consumer. What does she think about interstitial ads that are served up when she moves from one site or page of Web information to another? What does he think about that push-down unit that seemingly drives down the content he was happily reading a second ago?
If we place consumer experience and the inherent insights at the heart of our communications planning, we can create more cohesive marketing efforts that truly do drive engagement and offer value to our prime prospects.
Tom Ferry is Director of Media at gyro Chicago