The case for disruption

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Here I am, rounding the corner of 28th St. and Park Ave. in New York when, suddenly, I am hit by a guy coming at me with a flier for a local deli. A polite “no thank you” did no good — this last link in the marketing chain was listening to his iPod. Of all urban advertising vehicles, the people handing out fliers are definitely the most disruptive, much like a pop-up window that spawns an endless cycle of new pop-up windows. And, while the search marketer in me is eager to sing the merits of pull advertising, I will argue that not all disruption is made equal.

Over a lively dinner discussion last week, a few colleagues discussed the most disruptive advertising of all: the commercial. Breaking a storyline up into multiple bits to advertise soap, beer or financial services is no doubt annoying. And, for the most part, commercials are pretty bad. If anything, they serve as a good time to go get a snack in the kitchen. As it turns out, the guy handing out fliers is really not all that different from a bad commercial. Both disruptions keep me up from moving forward, and frequently leave me with a bad taste in my mouth. Yet I will argue that it is not the disruption itself that is bad — rather, it is the lack of creative content and poor execution.

Yes, execution. It is rare in our techno-world that we focus on importance of execution. Good, effective advertising relies upon many points of execution: the right research, strategy, creative and production. This is as true for search engine marketing as it is for the guy handing out fliers or the production team on a commercial.

High-stakes commercials, such as those before a feature film or during the Super Bowl, are frequently well executed and, therefore, more engaging. A smart street marketing team might effectively raise awareness of a new drink by handing out samples on a hot day. A good search engine marketing campaign can also make use of disruption. The Mazda coup d'etat during Pontiac's “Google Pontiac” campaign is a classic example.

Perhaps it is time that we accept that all advertising is disruptive, interactive advertising included. The argument that “we are more measureable” is a false   proxy for “we are more effective.” Even the most disruptive offline advertising can be effective, if well executed.

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