Monday, August 15, 2005

Ubiquitous Ads, Disappearing Freedom

The brilliant and entertaining Anne Holland at Marketing Sherpa recently blogged about the proliferation of advertising, and the need for marketers to save themselves through relevant targeting. She mentioned sand-sculpture advertising on the beach and other examples of the "loud shouting" sometimes done by marketers instead of delivering focused, relevant messages in targeted media.

I stumbled (or rather, paddled) across another example yesterday. My son and I canoed down the scenic and wild St. Croix river on the Minnesota-Wisconsin border. While making our way down river, I occasionally glanced down at my paddle to make sure I was pushing water efficiently. Imprinted on the front side of the paddle was, not surprisingly, the name of the camp where we'd rented the canoe. However, late in the trip, I turned the paddle over and glanced at the back of it, on which was imprinted -- the Pepsi name and logo.

What brilliant marketer at Pepsi came up with the idea of putting their logo on the back of canoe paddles? How much did that cost? Was there any way to measure the ROI? Was it not possible -- even likely -- that there was no ROI? (I don't think there was a Pepsi machine around for miles). Oh, how nice it would be to have that kind of marketing budget to spend...

The other thing I noticed, at the camp sites where we parked, rented our gear, and stopped along for breaks along the way, even in the relative remoteness of the St. Croix valley, was the proliferation of "no" signs. There were rules when I was young too, of course, but it just seemed that there weren't so many. While our trip down river was beautiful and wonderful overall, it was annoying to see so many "no" signs even in the wilderness.

No parking. No daytime parking. No overnight parking. No parking anytime. No swimming. No fishing. No alcoholic beverages. No non-alcoholic beverages. No food or beverages. No running. No motorized vehicles. No non-motorized vehicles. No experimental vehicles. No promotional vehicles. No smoking. No cigar smoking. No pipe smoking. No fish smoking. No wet bathing suits. No dry bathing suits. No littering. No loitering. No loud music. No soft music. No bad music from the 70's (okay, I made that one up, but I'm positive that someone's thought of it). No sun bathing. No nude sun bathing. No fully-clothed sunbathing. No pets. No children. No shell collecting (I'm NOT making that one up). Permit required. License required. Sticker required. Life jacket required. Insanity required. No screaming (AAAAArgh!).

Even the great outdoors in the "land of the free and home of the brave" has become as regulated and restricted as the most dense (in at least two senses of the word) urban core. Thanks to a small number of ill-behaved boors and large number of trial lawyers willing to sue anybody anytime anything bad happens to anyone anywhere, freedom gets eroded and life gets more rule-bound.

That's how it, sadly, has happened in the real world. The Internet is still, by comparison, a wide-open frontier. Regulation encroaches however; how long can we keep the Web (relatively) free? Yes, unfortunately, there are people who go online to do bad things: spammers, hackers, virus-writers and fraudsters. The law-abiding need to be protected. I hope that we can obtain this protection, predominantly if not entirely, through technology solutions (and more precise targeting by legitimate marketers), rather than asking the government to do more. In so many areas of life, we've already asked the government to do too much -- leading to higher taxes and reduced freedom. I hope that we can keep the "no" signs from proliferating on the Internet for a long time to come.

Keywords of the week: online advertising, targeted marketing

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