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Advertisement Clutter: Defeat With Relevence

It’s an obvious statement that ad clutter is rampant across all major mass media forms. One half of most major news and lifestyle magazines are advertisements, otherwise known as “non-content”. You can expect a 5-to-8 minute commercial break every 20 minutes on most terrestrial radio stations (and choose to change channels if you so desire). Online, there is an overabundance of web sites created simply as an ad vehicle to make money for their developers. Vivian uses the medium of television to introduce the concept of ad clutter through commercialism, “a phenomenon in which advertisements compete against each other and reduce the impact of all of them.” In noting television advertising’s pervasive reach, he states it “far outpaces other media,” and this “indicates its effectiveness in reaching a diverse mass audience,” (Vivian. p. 301.) Approximately 14-15 minutes of every hour of television we watch is consumed by advertising.

Let’s use the Super Bowl to help qualify this. In my opinion, the overabundance of spots during the Super Bowl – ad clutter – tends to degrade the results overall. Even just as that event ends, I sometimes struggle to remember back to all the spots I’ve seen over the previous 4 hours. Therefore, quality of the commercials helps – but quantity hurts. There are just so many messages bombarding you in that time span that I think it’s difficult to perceive the messages as they were intended. That, to me, is a perfect example of ad clutter. Now consider the fact that many viewers watch those commercials purely for entertainment value, which makes one question the effectiveness of a $3 million advertising investment.

But I also think we live now in a time when ad clutter is diminishing due to changes in media, or demassification. I have heard of ad budgets cut in half, or worse. From a recent NPR web post we learn, “Kelleher’s car dealerships used to spend about $170,000 a month on advertising. Now, just $60,000. Kelleher says about 17 percent of his revenue goes to advertising, and that’s all he can afford.” Lower budgets equates to fewer advertisers, thus less ad clutter. Fewer advertisers equates to lesser competition. As discussed in a previous post, newspaper advertisers are changing tactics and moving to different media. Watch carefully this weekend during Sunday afternoon football. You’ll see fewer advertisers and more repetitive spots. And in advertising effectiveness, repetition is a good thing.

At its worst, ad clutter degrades the effectiveness of all the messages involved. At its best, ad clutter is forcing advertisers and marketers to create new methods and techniques for getting their message heard and understood by its intended target. TV Week reported that since 2007, the National Geographic Channel has been experimenting with ways to combat ad clutter “by inserting relevant snippets of content into ad breaks; by ridding their shows of commercial ‘cues’ so viewers don’t know a show is set to break for commercials,” and other methods.

Appropriately, “Mad Men” producer Matthew Weiner refused to play to AMC’s wishes to shorten the shows run time to add 2.5 more minutes of commercials. Both parties got their way: the show ran 2.5 minutes longer than before, surpassing the traditional 60 minute show. Artistic integrity over ad clutter.

New marketing strategies such as guerilla marketing, experiential marketing, and others yet to be invented will assist advertisers in cutting through the clutter. The web has also proved to be a breakthrough medium in these emerging strategies. New concepts like “augmented reality” intertwine traditional (print) and new (online) media to create indelible viewer responses. These are incredibly inventive concepts that differentiate product experiences, cut through the clutter, and bring a unique message home to each viewer.

Lastly, a hot term online now is relevancy, and Google’s own advertising model – AdWords – takes full advantage of this. To me, a relevant ad also cuts through the clutter. It’s the purest form of segmentation because each ad is totally appropriate for the market segment viewing it. If a relevant ad message is specifically targeted to a viewer’s tastes, the viewer has a better experience with the ad message, and thus the ads are more effective. A win win, as far as I see it.

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