Advertising and Writing for the Web: A Matter of Respect

Ads and the Consumer Culture

If we watch television, or participate in social media, or engage in any of the various forms of mainstream media, we are exposed to ads and social manipulation. We are told that  we will be happier if we consume said product or idea. The advertising culture has created a type of bombardment, throwing ads in people’s faces as an exchange or cost for consuming desired content. The sheer volume often leaves people ignoring the ads and in a sense numbs them to the real messages that are being communicated.

In my opinion, it treats the consumer as stupid. I often ask the question why people pretend to play the advertiser’s games, where we turn a blind eye to the demands on our time and attention, waiting until an ad finishes displaying so that we can see something that we want to see. It’s a huge waste of time and in my experience often causes the opposite effect: I am so annoyed by being force fed the content that I don’t want to buy from that advertiser, especially if the ads are irrelevant.

I recently read Colleen Jones’ Clout the Art and Science of Influential Web Content. The first three chapters were highly recommended by Ginny Redish, in Letting Go of the Words. Redish described Jone’s words as Christmas. I had to find out why.  I will present some of her ideas a bit further on. She suggests revamping advertising altogether.

Advertising and Manipulation

Do any of you find it insulting that advertisers make assumptions, that may not have any basis in fact, and then push ads onto you, claiming that this magic serpent oil will make you happy and to shine like a golden statue?  Are you ever annoyed by the US advertising culture’s insistence that having things will bring more happiness?

If we had all of the money in the world and could buy without abandon, how soon would our lives be so cluttered that we might wish for a simpler existence? On the other hand, how many times have we been enthralled with a store display, buying something in the moment, and then the item sat unused on a shelf in our house? Eventually it found its way to the local second hand store?

Amping Up the Annoyance Factor

FaceBook is notorious for pushing irrelevant ads to consumers based on data they mine from their users. FaceBook makes assumptions about the consumer, as so many advertisers do, and then fire off advertising bullets at people, which more often than not leave them annoyed by receiving unwanted content.

My friend recently complained that after liking a pro-gay event , she was suddenly inundated with ads inviting her to join dating services for lesbians. The problem is that she is straight and has no interest in dating women, whatsoever. Yet FaceBook’s algorithms targeted her, simply because she expressed support for the group. The technology is clearly imperfect.

I attended Brigham Young University and left the Mormon faith shortly after graduating.  I disclosed that I had attended the university as part of my FaceBook profile, and I was immediately swamped with ads from Mormon-related commerce. Even though I marked the ads as ones that I did not want to see, I continued to receive Mormon-targeted messages until I removed the profile information that I had attended BYU.

In essence to escape the unwanted advertisements, FaceBook’s algorithms forced me to not truthfully disclose my past education. Receiving unwanted ads was enough of an annoyance that I removed the information. In my opinion, people should not be forced to lie to avoid unwanted ads, yet it is part of consuming and being consumed by big business.

For me personally, when I purchase something, I prefer to research the item and to make an informed decision. I don’t ever recall clicking on a random ad on the internet and buying something on impulse. In using the internet to purchase items, I take my time.

A New Advertising Model

So how does this tie in to respectful and more efficient web writing? Colleen Jones suggests that web writers and advertisers rethink the traditional advertising model, switching from a forceful delivery method to one of influence or clout. She suggests the following major shifts in thinking:

  • Instead of targeting consumers, we should attract people.
  • We should scrap the planning of advertising campaigns and instead should plan to create “entire customer relationships.”
  • Instead of verbally communicating the message, we should also show and walk the message.
  • Presenting the same message multiple times should be replace with revealing individual pieces of the message.
  • Advertisers should not force or trick consumers into buying, but should adopt the gentler approach of nudging them in a specific direction.
  • Avoid portraying a message as detached and create more of a contextual relationship.
  • Instead of focusing on getting people to buy something as the desired action, give people a bigger context as to why the message benefits them (p.12).

As long as people are plugged into popular culture, I do not know if we will ever escape seeing unwanted ads and needing to wade through content that does not interest us. With better and more informed web writing and design, however, people will be able to navigate more easily through websites, hopefully without  experiencing as much of an annoyance factor. More than anything, the new advertising model sees individuals more as people instead of as objects to be manipulated for monetary gain. It allows for people to have a greater choice in how they want to spend their time and efforts on the internet.

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