By Colin Jowell
 
One of the great things about being 40 in an industry that prefers its gurus a decade younger is that you don’t have to have a strong education in history, you just have to have a half decent memory.

That said, it was well before even my time when David Ogilvy said, “Man is at his vilest when he erects a billboard.” He went on to say: “I am going to start a secret society of masked vigilantes who will travel around the world on silent motor bikes, chopping down posters at the dark of the moon. How many juries will convict us when we are caught in these acts of beneficent citizenship?”.

Such evocative writing undoubtedly made him the legend that he was, and one wonders what he would have made of the latest scourge of advertising - the digital mobile pop-up. In an industry that celebrates terms like "user experience", and creates new jobs like "creative technologist", how is it that we have these interrupting menaces with their carefully concealed “x” marks, neatly obscuring the only path of escape?

I’m not being an old fart about it - a more direct, less erudite millennial colleague summed it up with “they suck!”.  And when something sucks that badly – expect regulation to follow.

Most cities have regulations around billboards. Sure it took some time, but one of the worst affected cities in the world by outdoor, Sao Paolo, enacted bans and limitations on the media in 2007. In 2011 Paris committed to a one-third reduction, and you can get an augmented reality app that removes subway advertising in New York.   

Of course, it’s not just mobile ads. Today’s eDM from Woolies promised me "half priced specials I could not resist". Despite having a detailed history of my past purchases, only two of 15 the items listed were things I had ever purchased before.  And given I’ve never purchased a processed food item from them in my life, putting party pies in front of me at half price is hardly the apex of predictive data-based marketing. Delete.

The rumblings have started - the ad blocking movement is gathering steam.  $22 billion has been lost to ad blocking so far according to some sources. This is enough for concerned marketers to consider ways in which they can “block the blockers”. To which I say - what an extraordinary waste of time and energy!
 
That energy should be channeled to this unavoidable truth. Despite my critique, digital has created some incredible experiences that have attracted massive audiences, beating the odds with a fragmented, distracted audience. If yours isn’t one of them, instead of trying to figure out ways to ram your message down your customers throats, try to think of ways to make that message more relevant, engaging, and heck, even helpful. You’re trying to breed more geese, not make foie gras.

It stuns me to see (what should be respectable) marketers “trialing” mobile in irrelevant places, at irrelevant times, in irrelevant ways. The only way most of those trials can be deemed successful is because most of us have fat and clumsy thumbs. If it carries on at this rate, by 2050 some of us will have evolved thin, pointy, stylus-like thumbs because the rest of us will have been driven to an early grave by irritation.

The worst writing, the poorest insights, the clunkiest design are saved for a medium where customers actually expect the best. We can do better. And our customers already know it.