This week, Ian Truscott has been hanging out in the proverbial penthouse with Christine Bailey. As usual, the conversation quickly bubbled with ire. The subject: interruption marketing and wasted advertising. Feel differently? Then let us know. 

Elsewhere in this issue, resident CMO rock star Ted Rubin urges us to walk in the shoes of the people receiving our marketing. I get the feeling Christine Bailey spends a lot of time doing just that: that’s why she’s so desperate to chuck interruption marketing and wasted advertising into the pool.

I’m reminded of the time we went backstage with her:

“Personally, I hate interruption marketing and wasted advertising,” Christine said. “I went to an exhibition recently and there was a sign in the bathroom: ‘Please do not throw advertising circulars in the toilets’. Says it all really.”


Luckily, at this hotel there’s no sign forbidding us from throwing such crap in the swimming pool, so Christine shoots me a knowing wink and gives wasted advertising a sharp shove.

Going in? Just like that? If you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ll know I usually share some justification before giving marketing’s unforgivable aspects the old “heave-ho”. But this time the rationale seems so damn obvious. OK, if I must…

As trainee marketers, we’re pretty much bottle-fed on one nugget of wisdom, which was supposedly uttered by John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is, I don’t know which half.” Such ignorance would feel like bliss these days. We’re now drowning in data, and the industry average click-through rates for any form of digital advertising are in the low single-digit percentages. If Wanamaker was around today, his lament would surely be: “95% of my digital marketing is pissing people off. And I know exactly which 95%.”

Of course, these days our definition of ‘waste’ may not be the same as in Wanamaker’s time. He’d have to spend a lot of money to piss off 95% of his audience. Today, if we’re only paying for the click, there’s barely any waste at all.

That said, we’re still straddling the marketing world of old and whatever comes next, so it remains perfectly possible to spend an awful lot of money only to end up pissing people off. Dodge once spent a shitload of cash on an ill-judged super bowl ad that used a Martin Luther King speech to hawk their trucks. It may not have succeeded in annoying the full 95%, but it did get plenty of folks riled up, and almost certainly fell short of Wanamaker’s benchmark of only wasting 50% of your advertising budget on a given campaign.

The important thing to recognize is that these apparently wasteful moments are also golden opportunities.

Christine refers to being at an exhibition, and she refers to being interrupted. These were expensive and hard things in Wanamaker’s day. But today…

BUY MY STUFF NOW!!!

… I can interrupt anyone reading an article pretty much for free.

And any opportunity to engage is still incredibly valuable.

But how many times do we pay attention to a piece of marketing for a fleeting moment, only to be left disappointed in what the advertiser has chosen to do with that attention? We click through to another dumb ad or impenetrable wall of business speak and we feel cheated. That’s more moments from our short lives stolen.

Today, the cost of reaching people’s eyeballs may have dropped, but the opportunity we have once they engage is just as powerful as it’s always been.

So we stand by Christine’s position: anything that wastes that opportunity is being flushed down the gallery toilet. And out into the pool…

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