As I get older, I find obnoxious marketing increasingly aggravating. Obnoxious marketing consists of repetitive, loud, colorful, repetitive, artfully crafted, obtrusive, repetitive, unsolicited messages designed to seize your attention whether you want them or not. Obnoxious marketing readily interrupts sustained thoughts and interpersonal dialogues. Examples include subway platform advertising, bill boards, radio ads, and volume enhanced commercial video clips on TV and the Internet. When radio ads blare through your car, it is appreciably more difficult to continue speaking with your passenger, even though you may have been able to speak together over the music. Somehow, when that ever-happy, hyperactive sales voice pipes up, our own thoughts stumble and pause. This is not by accident or luck. There is a lot of research, effort, and money put into it on the marketer’s part.
When I click over to The Daily Show to watch an interview with business columnist Joe Nocera about how Wall Street made the economy as awful as it has become, I have to mute the obnoxious marketing – a flurry of beer ads touting knuckleheaded revelry, or a faux-ditz blonde actress with impeccable skin complaining about her imaginary zits. If marketing is annoying you, if marketing is saying your life is not quite as good as the life being pictured before you, if marketing makes you feel a subtle sensation of dissatisfaction, a heart sink that a suggested acquisition may remedy, then, unfortunately, that marketing is doing its job correctly – being obnoxious.
As I age and continue to learn, the aggravation factor of those ads has become much more pronounced than any imaginary benefit such advertising purports to offer me. But we have become resigned to obnoxious marketing. Marketers have browbeat us with obnoxious marketing for so long that people are starting to believe they are supposed to like it.
Obnoxious marketing is designed, according to experience and research, to grab and hold attention, to highlight desires you may not have even had before you witnessed the marketing, and to draw your attention away from qualitative human needs, like self-knowledge and meaningful interpersonal relationships. Because of our animistic evolutionary disposition toward visual stimulation, we can’t help but look at obnoxious marketing images. We are, in effect, forced to scan the pushy selling. There’s no gun to our heads, no, but something more subtle – science. Mounds and mounds and decades and decades of funded research dedicated to finding out what makes a human being notice things, studied just like any other mammal. Then that knowledge is exploited commercially.
Resist The Heart Sink
Obnoxious marketing makes my heart sink, and rather than tough out the the heart sink, I’ve trained myself to mute the ad, turn away from it, shut it out. But I always have to see it first. Obnoxious marketing causes such a heart sink because of the undercurrent of meaning beneath the message. It is a cold, uncaring message, pretending to be our friend, foisted on our populace by an insatiable corporate structure, bent on an untenable permanent growth curve, ever hungry for more resources, commodifying the human spirit for short term gain, nested in an image designed to sneak into our sensorium.
On an intuitive level, it is unmistakable that obnoxious marketers care nothing for us, they only care about impelling us to spend. Don’t believe those people who are insisting that they are just giving us what we want. Those people are the marketers themselves and the folks who hire them, who have spent decades studying how to tell us what to want, using relentless, exorbitantly expensive, psychologically tailored, obnoxious marketing. Obnoxious marketing thinks of us as consumers, cattle to graze their stimuli, rather than planetary citizens, participants in society with interests beyond the cash register. If you have been browbeat enough to believe them, to think of yourself as a consumer before you think of yourself as a planetary citizen, then obnoxious marketing is succeeding.
Obnoxious marketing has become a peculiar fact of American life. It is meticulously crafted to seize our attention, invent desires, enhance self-consciousness, and ignore needs. More research than you think has been dumped by companies and ad agencies into finding out exactly what makes the human animal pay visual and auditory attention to something. Obnoxious marketing creates stimuli for human animals, not human beings. Like lab rats tapping a feeder bar, human animals pay attention to obnoxious marketing. In fact, it is safe to say that the “best” obnoxious marketing is instinctively impossible to ignore. With an act of discipline, a person can look away from it and tune it out. But to never look at the zit ad in the first place? Good luck.
It is no longer accurate to say that people look at obnoxious marketing because they like what it is showing them. It is more accurate to say that such advertising makes people look at it because we are visual creatures and hundreds of thousands of years of evolution have taught us to pay attention to brightly colored moving objects, because those objects might be useful, or more to the point, dangerous, and we must react accordingly.
The incredible success of toned-down, embedded, online pinpoint marketing, like that practiced by Google, Amazon, and Facebook, is a testament to just how sick we have become of obnoxious marketing. And I think it goes deeper than that, even.
Enter: The Self
Turn your attention to the recent explosion of self-promoted success in the digital music, film, and book markets. There is a growing movement of musicians, filmmakers, and writers who are forging new ways to make a living producing their art – and they are doing it without obnoxious marketing and the corporate superstructure responsible for such marketing. These artists are connecting directly with fans and giving their fans a reason to buy. The most successful new wave of artist success stories is powered by this emergent ethos. Be yourself, address your fans directly. We’re all people, and we can buy from each other, without gatekeeping from corporations posing as people.
Which brings us to the Kindle, and the whole family of electronic media delivery gadgets. The Kindle is a gadget which signifies an antidote to obnoxious marketing, like mp3 players for music once did, and tablet computers for movies on the go. These devices make it possible to acquire and enjoy music, film, or text, directly from the creator, with zero cost for reproduction and no sacrifice in quality (compared to media distributed through traditional pre-digital means). For an author to be globally accessible, they don’t need a book deal, they just have to place themselves in the online marketplace, and promote themselves earnestly. If a musician wants to be globally accessible, they do not need a record deal, they just need to place themselves in the online marketplace, and promote themselves earnestly. The considerable pre-digital machinery that used to be utterly necessary for analogue distribution is becoming marginalized. Print shops and record presses are no longer necessary to distribute books and music. Print books and physical music recordings are transitioning into niche media formats, forgoing their dominance to digital formats.
How does this connect to obnoxious marketing?
Obnoxious marketing will also become marginalized into a niche, because planetary citizens will turn away from it and tune it out, just as we turned away from CDs when digital music players came into their own, and tuned out banner ads when social media interfaces came into their own. Obnoxious marketing is a tactic of large hierarchical corporate structures insisting that you notice what they are peddling. It eschews subtlety in favor of blunt force. It has disdain for buyers, dubbing them consumers, and stuffing them like feed-lot heifers.
Self-based marketing is not even looking for consumers. It is looking for true fans. A true fan has a real life, and real interests. A consumer bludgeoned with obnoxious marketing might buy your album because of the single and be bored by the rest of it – end of your story with that buyer. A true fan will buy whatever you create. Obnoxious marketing relies on a high number of one shot buys from hypnotized consumers, making a quick fortune on few-hit wonders and spitting the artists out after chewing them up. By comparison, self-based marketing relies on repeat purchases from true, interested fans.
Self-based marketing is not trying to make you feel bad or jealous about life, so you’ll go out and spend, borrowing money to buy stuff that only depreciates in value, trying to wash away the heart sink. Self-based marketing does not highlight deficiencies. Self-based marketing does not conjure a heart sink. Self-based marketing is a creator saying, “Hey, world, look what I love to do. See if you love it, too.” Writers J.A. Konrath, Amanda Hocking, Will Entrekin, Barry Eisler, Selena Kitt, and Scott Nicholson are a few examples of this in the ebook market. Musical acts Ryan Hurtgen, Jonathan Coulton, Black Market Research, and Rene Breton are examples of this in the music market. If you want to know more about who is breaking ground in the digital film making market, I suggest a visit to Ross Pruden’s ∞infdist. Ross has dedicated a great deal of compelling thought to this subject.
It is important to note, in the new digital distribution paradigm, that artists have to spend more time creating than promoting. This is the longed-for, overdue death knell for obnoxious marketing and the bloated commercial structures by which it is produced. Rather than settle for obnoxiously marketed mediocre art, people in the digital marketplace are looking for good self-powered art that they truly appreciate. And when they find it, they will buy it, repeatedly. To be a self-based success you have to actually be consistently creative.
In the new, subtle paradigm of infinite digital distribution, you have to keep creating. You can’t just exploit a few hits and disappear. This is a good thing. The Kindle can save our asses because it exemplifies a creative market where a dedicated artist can make exactly the kind of art they want to make and see for themselves if people want to buy. There’s no obnoxious gatekeeper, no corporate unperson deciding preemptively if the art you create is what the people want. The artist can just check with the people, because, except for the corporations creating obnoxious marketing, we’re all people.
Thanks for reading. Reading rules!