Magazine Article


Advertise This!

"Our approach, simply put," continued the message in Mr. Nisenholtz's name, "is to limit this type of advertising to one instance per user session," which the reader writes is incorrect.

"There are two pop-ups per session on The New York Times site," the reader tells us, "but one comes from the Times itself and not a paid advertiser, so I guess they don't think it counts. And this e-mail's addressing only pop-ups, conveniently ignoring all those obnoxious animations on almost every page. When you get a lie and a non-sequitur all in the same sentence, you're either talking to a psycho or a machine."

Preferring to believe it was a machine, our writer concludes with a vow. "When I first wrote to the Times, it was for their own good. I told them I'd boycott those advertisers whose ads annoyed me, but I didn't get through to them. So there's only one thing I can do. I'm not only boycotting those advertisers, I'm telling everyone I know to boycott them, too."

Make people boycott the product? Say, there's a good reason to run ads. Between that and fried eggs on a trashcan, we should expect all kinds of records next quarter.

Full Disclosure

Don't get me wrong. I'm not one of those wonks who goes around deploring the existence of advertising. I love advertising. It's the hand that feeds me, by paying the bills for my publishers. Even without such self-serving interest, I'd have to agree that advertising benefits everyone. Customers want to know which products are available, so mutual benefits abound. But also, if something that sours my supper gets splashed on the hand that feeds me, I suppose it's my own self-interest to mention it.

My own attitudes toward the craft of advertising were formed at the forge, so to speak. Before I went editorial, before I went freelance, I worked for a living 9-to-5 as a copywriter in some of the top agencies. Then I bounced over to a small shop, Gilbert & Felix, Jack Gilbert, proprietor. Jack taught me the philosophy that is said to have put Nikon on the map, when Joe Eherenreich slapped our shores with the first waves of Nikon F's.

"Don't even mention the product in the first paragraph," Jack Gilbert said, "simply talk about how good having it makes you feel. How great it is to take the best picture. Don't bring up Nikon till Paragraph two."

The ad, and by extension the product, treated the reader like a companion and colleague in the discoveries and triumphs of photographic pursuit. It took the reader in. It didn't say Nikon had "the world's sharpest lenses," you did, after the ad said you'll take beautifully sharp pictures. It sold a lot of Nikons.

It was a monumental technique in the hands of a Jack Gilbert, but there seem to be new hands on the ranch these days who seem intent on beating their customers into acquiescence.

The Night of the Living Who?

Now it turns out that advocacy groups like the N.R.A. are buying radio stations and publishing newspapers to promote their contentions. The public approves or disapproves according to their existing contentious views, but either way could get nervous. Does everyone have one arm around their shoulder, the other reaching for their wallet? Such revulsions have led to political coups and social revolutions, for people dislike feeling pushed-around. The seeds of discontent ferment into a chorus of rebellion, so to speak, and then erupt.

"Give the reader something he can grasp" is an old advertising addage, well-understood in environmentally-conscious Canada where a recycling theme subtly underlies many advertising messages.

That is to say, people resent the ads they see, and complaining is like talking to a machine. So a lot of folks have been treated to "non-advertising," or at least non-institutional or non-mainstream advertising. Have you noticed that handsome matron in the supermarket, who is telling another customer candidly and confidentially, if not rather loudly, of the wonders done her by this particular vitamin pill?

There's nothing new about word-of-mouth advertising. By most accounts it's the most effective kind. Your defenses go up if a snake-oil barker exhorts you to try just one bottle, but come tumbling down when your dear Auntie offers herb tea.

What the marketers realize is that the people you trust can be used against you more effectively than people you distrust.

It's the basis of a host of pyramid schemes. Who do they tell you to sign-up, besides your cousins and in-laws? Remember the original Tupperware parties, where entire neighborhoods of housewives convened on one household for chatter and vacuum-sealing refrigerator bowls? Some of my best friends (just ask them) have been Amway representatives.