A new strategy for those thinking about advertising on the internet: stay well away.

Until recently, I viewed the internet as a medium like any other. I was convinced all it needed to up its game was decent ideas. Now, I’ve changed my mind. The digital ‘space’ isn’t the same as other media. And it doesn’t need those fantastic advertising ideas – it doesn’t need ads at all.

We’re just annoying people

Recent research by Adobe revealed that UK consumers find internet advertising ‘annoying’, ‘irritating’ and ‘invasive’ – and I’m with them on that. When I want to watch a video on YouTube, I first have to endure an ad, up to 30 seconds long. I’m not allowed to kill the ad until given permission, which can be infuriating.

Those ads add up to a lot of wasted time. US statistics from March 2012 alone show that people were forced to watch 8.3 billion ads before getting to what they wanted to watch.

If ads are annoying on a PC screen, they’re even more so on a mobile one. When I download an app, a good slice of the screen is hogged by an ad. I can pay for an ad-free version, but like the vast majority of Android users, I choose to put up with the ads in the name of being ‘free’.

But is that where we, as an industry, really want to be? Forcing our wares on an unwilling, captive audience?

Anti-social media

Unlike any other medium, Social is the one we share with our audience. The problem is, the relationship doesn’t work. Why? Because although we can’t do without our audience, they could well do without us. They’re there to socialise. To show off. To sell themselves. We’re there to sell product. No matter how much we pretend we’re socialising, we’re not. We’re the uninvited guest, who only got in because they paid. Sandwiched between posts. Getting in the way.

If the audiences don’t see us off, the devices will

Twitter’s floatation brings audience rejection of an ad-funded platform to the fore, once again. But unlike Facebook users, the Twitterati are concerted and mean business, and brands could swiftly be damaged by their wrath – just ask MacDonalds, who incurred it recently.

Alongside diminishing public tolerance, the devices are shrinking, such as Samsung’s Galaxy Gear Watch, for instance.

Due to the paucity of space, it’s difficult to communicate anything genuinely engaging. That’s why agencies have persuaded clients to generate ‘content’, engage in social media ‘conversations’, and enter into ‘storytelling’ (I saw a recruitment ad for a ‘Head of Storytelling’ recently, which for me, signals we have now entered the ridiculous phase).

I think brands need to think carefully before rushing into their customers’ lives, despite the pressure they may be under from their agencies to do so.

To establish social presence requires extreme skill, but is frequently ill-judged, with lamentable results. Just skim through the current chatter on certain energy providers’ Facebook pages and Twitter feeds, which demonstrates the clear blue disconnect between these companies and their customers. Such brands are under siege on their own virtual doorsteps, which have descended into venues for publicly-aired complaints, with brand staff humiliated and hardly daring to chip in between the insults.

What should we be doing on the internet?

I’m not suggesting we all pack up and go home. There are massive opportunities on the internet, but in my opinion, largely not advertising ones. (I can honestly say I’ve never responded to an internet ad – I always know what I’m looking to buy, and a search engine, not an ad, is usually all I need to find it.)

The internet is, above all, a functional medium. We should apply our expertise to this aspect, helping our clients broaden what they can do for their customers, rather than just what they can say to them. We should be innovative, rather than just jump on the monetisingly-challenged creations of Silicon Valley internet entrepreneurs.

We’re too obsessed with forcing people to connect (awful word) with us, absorbing our brands into their lives. But just listen to the customer. Many are telling us they don’t want us there – and it’s time the ad industry got their message, for once.

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