It’s confession time - I used to sell advertising for a living. Yes, I was one of those “ad guys” who only calls when it’s least convenient, but don’t judge me too harshly, my area was magazines and websites in the consumer technology space and the ads were almost always related directly to the editorial content. Does that make a difference? Of course it does. That connection between advertising and content immediately moves the ads from pure interruption marketing into something approximating permission marketing.

What eerie sorcery is this I hear you ask? Where’s the implicit consent from the consumer? Well, consider this example if you will: I’m a serious hi-fi enthusiast and I devour hi-fi magazines from cover to cover on a regular basis. To me, the ads for hi-fi gear are as interesting and relevant as the editorial content of the titles, so they’re anything but an intrusion. It goes without saying that some of the ads are more professional, more interesting or just better than others but on the whole, I’m happy to read them.

On the other hand, the ads in those titles for lifestyle products aren’t really what I want to see, so I’m inclined to take them at their own merits. I might well read a watch advert because I’m into watches. An ad for a Jeep aimed at the upmarket audiophiles who presumably read the magazine will leave me cold though – I’m not into Jeeps and I really don’t want their ads cluttering up my lovely hi-fi publication. 

However, I am at least vaguely inclined to check out what the non hi-fi adverts are about, seeing as I’m in something of a receptive and open frame of mind at that point. This is a vast contrast to the way I behave when I’m reading less specialised titles, which is when I’m more likely to completely ignore most of the ads. The seemingly endless clothing ads in GQ or Esquire come to mind here…
As long as the ads in specialist titles are relevant to the audience and related to the content, they’ll be received with far more warmth than random ads. This is as true in a car magazine as it is in a gourmet food title. The further you move away from specialist media however, the more you head into pure interruption marketing, where only a small fraction of the audience gives a damn.
This specialist focus is obviously a no-brainer for a company that makes expensive speaker cables for audiophiles (only a few nutters like me actually want to read those ads) or frighteningly expensive lenses for professional photographers. It’s tougher for those companies with less specialized products and services that need to appeal to the mass market. The more mainstream the product, the harder the task but then again, that’s life.

It’s a crowded and competitive world and standing out isn’t easy - that’s where creativity, innovation and fresh thinking come in. When all your competitors are doing the same thing and thinking in the same square, then do something different, find another shape to think in. Even the plainest, most generic brands can get a new life.

I, as a consumer, want to grant you permission to entertain me with your marketing. No really I do, because hardly anyone else’s marketing is. So why isn’t yours? 

What’s your Nek Minnit? Who’s your Ghost George? If you’re not given outright permission, then approach the consumer in that sweet spot when they’re most likely to want to take in your message. If you can’t do this, if you absolutely have to hit them when it suits you, then please, please, make it worth their while.

Lasting and valuable shifts in the perception of brands can and do happen. These changes can fly into the market as if by magic if they’re allowed to but they won't as long as your team is only thinking as far as the next direct mailer, or applying a five percent refresh to the last campaign that "sort of worked okay" or even worse, giving away a TV with your heat pump or a heatpump with your TV or a heat pump with your heat pump or whatever. Holy failure of the imagination Batman!