One Answer to Failing Advertising is Customized Product Discovery

Everyone hates bad advertising, which is why the industry is in a freefall. But what does it mean to be bad advertising? Is there such a thing as good advertising?

I think there is, and I think the way to tell the difference is to simply ask yourself if you consider the thing you’re being shown to be:

  1. An annoyance, or

  2. A service

If it’s annoying, it’s bad. That means that the thing you’re being shown is not something you’d ever buy, consider, share, or otherwise care about. It’s not matched to you in any way, or there’s some sort of other disconnect that otherwise puts you off (like being pitched wedding information during a painful divorce).

So that’s bad.

Good ads are indistinguishable from someone paying a service to find cool things for you. So imagine you just want to know the coolest bags, tech gadgets, vacations, services…whatever. And you’re willing to pay $100 a month for this service.

And imagine that the way they deliver this service is not to have you come to a designated location to browse options, but instead they subtly slip the products they find right into your normal daily workflow. So while you’re sitting at a stoplight. While you’re on a train. While you’re working out. While you’re browsing the internet. Etc.

Imagine that this service is excellent. It constantly finds items for you that you would have never found otherwise, but that you absolutely enjoy, and when you see them you are frequently delighted and happy that you paid for the discovery service.

That’s what good ads should be. And if any ad company wants to survive, that’s what they must become.

Facebook is getting pretty close to this already. I think I might have bought around 3-5 items from Facebook that I genuinely enjoyed learning about. Of course they’re using my data, data about who I like and follow, and a ton of machine learning to figure out the products I’d like to see, but that’s just a given at this point. Anyone trying to serve ads who can’t do this is basically doomed. See the industry freefall for reference.

So the point is this: good ad services don’t feel like ads at all. They feel like paid discovery services for the rich.

As a consumer, ask yourself what kind of ads you would be willing to tolerate, and why. Hopefully you’ll see some examples of ads that you enjoyed, and perhaps they’ll have this quality to them.

And as a company doing advertising, ask yourself whether or not the delivery mechanism for your ad is tuned enough to be mistaken for a paid service. If it’s not, you’re likely annoying someone and wasting a lot of money. Try to reach the standard of paid service in your delivery. If you can pull it off, your campaign is likely to be wildly successful.

Everyone is overwhelmed with information, and they’re tired of seeing things that aren’t relevant. Individually tuned, curated discovery of new products and services is where the game is at.

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