It’s digi-deja vu all over again…

There are a couple of careers I’ve always thought fascinating. A disaster estimator for example. Within minutes of a disaster occuring these people have the ability to estimate the exact number of people who have been injured or killed – despite not even being at the disaster location. Amazing stuff. These numbers are then published globally on news television, in print and online. What a skill to have and you don’t have to worry about your job at night, unless of course you live in a disaster zone – like Canberra for example. (sorry no more political commentary).

Another career that excites me is ‘futurist’. You predict the future, get published and by the time the future is here, everyone has forgotten what you predicted. In most cases it doesn’t really matter. But future forecasting is essential for planning our communities, government (politics again, sorry) and other decision-making stuff. I’m thinking of becoming a futurist. For example I predict the marketing industry will continue to breed opinionators who use sweeping generalisations to validate their hyperbole. But that was a gimmee – anyone could predict that.


So it was with enthusiasm that I started to read in the Harvard Business Review “A futurist looks at the future”. (I’m pretty sure he wouldn’t be looking at the past – maybe a copy editor would be an easier job?).

The article was about digital marketing, as against analogue marketing. Let’s take a peek at the first prediction:

Prediction 1 – paraphrased: By 2020, most interruptive marketing will be gone. Instead, marketing will be personalized, customized, and adapted to what I have expressed as my wishes or opt-ins — which essentially means that advertising becomes content. (there’s that ‘content’ word again)

Using my pastist powers (as against futurist powers) I recall similar statements in the 1980’s. I probably made some myself as an apprentice futurist. Remember the 1980’s? The era of BIG SHOULDER PADS and BIG DATA. That’s right folks – marketing discussions were all about how marketers would handle the massive volumes of data being created by computerised databases. “Data is king” screamed the trade press – and it’s taking over marketing.


Futurists predicted that every marketing message in the future was going to be customised or personalised, possibly even pasteurised? BIG DATA was so happening, that in 1988 I opened Australia’s first database consultancy within a direct marketing agency – Ogilvy DataConsult. (well it was a database consultancy, hence the name).

But back to interruptive marketing. Do you think there is a parallel universe out there in which digi-people live? The reason I say this is because the interweb is probably the most disruptive/interruptive media channel ever invented. Just a minute, an email has arrived. Now where was I? Oops sorry, a text message is nagging me on my mobile. Sh*t these bloody pop-up ads keep appearing from a website I have open in the background.

You get the picture?

You cannot open a newspaper site without automatic video streaming of advertisements. You have to click the damn things to stop them playing. You have to opt-out to read the news. Then there are those damn pop-up and pop-under ads that appear and force you to click on them so you can continue to read. Apparently, so I’m told, this was invented by the adult industry – like most of the technical developments on the interweb.

Or what about the banner ads that flash, animate and move around distracting your eye from its main task? As humans we have trained ourselves to effectively ignore these ads – the term is banner blocking. We’ve being doing the same with editorial/advertisements on printed pages for decades.

And try working on your email without the constant stream of new messages arriving. Hands-up who would like more email interrupting their day? Have you opened a web page on your mobile lately? More often than not an advertisement interrupts your viewing. You have to click the damn thing to get rid of it. But woe the poor sod whose digits aren’t delicate, or who doesn’t have their reading glasses with them. They try to click the micro-box to close the ad, but instead open it and have to go through the hassle of closing the damn thing. It can be very frustrating, this interruption to your day.

fat finger

Even YouTube now interrupts your viewing with ads you have to watch before you can watch your chosen video.

And then of course there’s that wonderful new buzzword, remarketing, where ‘customised’ ads follow you all over the interweb, based on your previous behaviour. A Marketing Director friend of mine (who is around 60 years young) was looking on a number of websites for a baby gift for a niece. She likes a bargain, so looked at a few sites over 24 hours. Thanks to the wonders of automated marketing, for the following six weeks she was interrupted on most sites she visited with advertisements for strollers, prams, designer nappies and other such completely irrelevant products.

Relevant remarketing??
Relevant remarketing??

Another mate of mine cannot understand why he keeps getting ads for single girls on his Facebook page?? I go to a gym (yes I do…) at a local RSL club. I don’t do anything else at the club, never spend a cent in there. Yet they regularly interrupt my day with text messages for my chance to win $$$ or to come watch the rugby league on the BIG SCREEN. Gotta luv that automated marketing.

Yes, you can create your own inbound news feeds, but even these need to be funded by advertising. It is human nature to learn through discovery. It’s why so few people create tailored news streams and RSS feeds. They like to go to a site and explore what’s there. It’s part of the enjoyment of the process. Like turning pages in a newspaper or magazine. You don’t know what’s on the next page, which is why you turn. It’s in our DNA.

There is a simple reason for lots of this digi-confusion. Many of our digi-futurists only started their marketing lives after the first dot.con. They’re still marketing toddlers in the scheme of things. They assume the only marketing world is the online world. They’ve never worked in “traditional” media. Because something is new to them, they believe it is new to the world. They don’t study history, or realise that while technology changes, humans don’t.

People buy things emotionally and justify them rationally – regardless of the technology that delivers the marketing message. It has and always will be.

As Margaret Thatcher (politics again) famously said: “there’s one thing wrong with socialism – you eventually run out of other people’s money”.

And so it is with the interweb. As long as digi-businesses continue to be created that require advertising revenue to fund the sites, (because the punters don’t value the content enough to pay for it), then interruptive advertising will live on. It has to, or the sites will close.

There are two other reasons it will continue. Firstly there aren’t too many marketers who want to run ads that don’t get seen. And secondly, not many marketers worry if the ads work or not, they just want to make sure they are seen to be advertising.

I also predict not everyone will agree with me:)

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