Overexposure that can’t be fixed with Photoshop

I read something Dr John Levine wrote about the ubiquity of advertising, and it tied into some thoughts I’ve been having regarding the parallels between marketing and swearwords.

There’s a word that starts with F and ends with K and we all know what it is. It used to be a very, very bad word. It was a shocking word, a word so bad that kids would get their mouth washed out with soap for using it. Carlin included it in his “words you can’t say on TV”. It was a word that you Just Did Not Say. These days, though, it’s been so overused, so ubiquitous, and is so very common that it has entirely lost its shock value. You hear it everywhere. Kids say it. Parents say it. You hear it at work, on the radio, and on TV. Jokes are made about it. It’s just not a big deal any more. Heck, I say it to my Dad. It’s gone the way of the dodo.

Seems to me that advertising is following in its footsteps. Dr Levine said:

We are bombarded by ads from the moment we get up until the moment we go to sleep. There’s ads on the radio, ads on TV, ads in the newspaper, ads on billboards, ads on the bus, ads on the fricking steps in the NYC subway. In my physical mailbox, where I used to throw away about one worthless little newspaper full of ads a week, now it’s one or two a day.

It’s true. Advertising is so common and so overused that we just don’t see it any more. The more it is pushed at us, the more avenues are used to put it in front of us, the less we see it, the less we WANT to see it, out of sheer self-defense. I myself make extensive use of Ad-Block, my TiVo, and the Bayesian filters on my personal email. If I didn’t ask for a specific advertising mail, I mark it as spam, and ignore it henceforth unless it becomes annoying enough to trigger me into running the IPs for their stats. 99% of the time they’re awful, and you can guess what happens next.

People’s behavior with advertising reminds me of the self-defensive behavior people in seriously over-crowded cities exhibit: they rush along, looking at a fixed point in front of them, don’t look at other people, don’t deviate from their paths, and if something gets in their way they get *angry*. People are reaching the tipping point with advertising – over-saturation, overexposure, over-everything. They can’t escape the billboards and bus ads and subway ads, the ads over the air in the stores they shop in, and the billion other exposures they cannot control, so they get particularly agitated about the ads that encroach on space they feel is their private property: their email inboxes. They’re getting angry, and unlike me they have little to no recourse to do anything about it. So…they just get angrier.

Unless email marketing wants to go the way of the F word and the dodo, I think it is high time this phenomenon was given due consideration. The constant bombardment only makes people pay less attention and get more angry, and that isn’t what email marketers want.

So, folks, what’s the solution?

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