The brands I care about are all yelling at me

Update: If you enjoyed this article, you should vote for this SXSW 2013 panel. It should be a thought-provoking conversation.

Skype, a few weeks ago: “You should think of Conversation Ads as a way for Skype to generate fun interactivity between your circle of friends and family and the brands you care about. Ultimately, we believe this will help make Skype a more engaging and useful place to have your conversations each and every day.”

The brands I care about.

Brands that I care about.

Brands. Care. I. About.

I can’t make it make sense. Some thoughts:

  1. Advertisements are placed by the brand. Any advertisement I see isn’t there because it’s a brand I care about; it’s because I’m a consumer the brand cares about. The advertiser wants to reach me, not the other way around. To reverse the relationship and suggest that I’m clamoring to reach a set of brands is perverse.
  2. To the extent that I’m involved in the relationship at all, I’m interested in products, not brands. I use a computer for a living; I decided to switch to Mac because I worked out that the build quality would save me money and improve my productivity, not because I love Apple. I buy organic ketchup from Trader Joe because I try to avoid high fructose corn syrup, and Trader Joe is convenient. If another company came out with a computer that lasted as long, or another ketchup that was made without corn syrup and was equally convenient to buy, I might switch. I’m loyal to values, not brands. The idea that I might stick to Apple or Trader Joe because of an emotional attachment to the brand itself is, again, perverse.
  3. I can see why advertising companies want us to care about brands. The meme has existed for a while now, and the relentless hammering will doubtless have the same propaganda effect that, say, advertising for fast food has over time. After a while your sense of reality shifts and you accept that of course this is food. Of course we should care about product lines. Of course we should define ourselves by what we buy and consume.
  4. It’s bullshit. As an industry, we should be aiming higher. Eyeball-based economics has led us to a situation where everything we create exists to shill ads. The promise of computing is to improve the human experience, and it’s hard to do that when your goal is to bring in as many users as possible so they can click on very special messages, algorithmically delivered just for them.

I believe this strongly: ethical companies charge for their services. Display advertising is a legacy economic model, and the brands that control it are gatekeepers. There are better business models out there, waiting to be found, that allow sites and communities to be sustainable on their own terms.

12 responses to “The brands I care about are all yelling at me”

  1. I like this post. I think I would respond better to ethical advertising that highlighted that there are real humans working for Company X, who are trying to make Widget Y as good as it can be to help me, the consumer, get Project Z accomplished.

  2. Right on, Benjamin… my boss was talking this week about how our generation has almost zero brand loyalty and that scares the snot out of the corporations. I say that’s as it should be… and you just articulated it well. Stay in line with my values, I’ll buy your stuff. Be a jerk, you’re outta here.

  3. You’re in the minority. Most consumers are not intelligent and are highly susceptible to behaviorial conditioning through advertisements and branding. Have you not seen the droves of diehard Apple fanboys/girls that rush off in anticipation of the next iPhone before even viewing it?

    • you are wrong if you think consumers/ people are not intelligent…
      that attitude will not help you to start or keep a conversation with one.
      all communication based on the principle that consumers are stupid have no engaging and sound like someone yelling. When you take in consideration that people aren`t stupid you don`t need to scream, you just need to use their words/ insights, tell a story where you share comum values that can relate with your brand.

  4. I would second the comments by Evan Jacobs. Most people are emotionally attached to brands, whether they admit it or not. This is not the same as “caring” (perhaps this was the wrong word to use). Consumers can be attached to a brand for many reasons, good and bad. The good companies focus on the good reasons I suspect, making their VALUE synonymous with their brand. The Apple brand, for instance, consists, in part, of the value and quality design its consumers perceive.

    “The advertiser wants to reach me, not the other way around.” Not exactly. A good company with a strong, value-based brand knows that its customers will seek them. Whether or not you find it “perverse,” it is true.

    I also think that branding is being incorrectly conflated with advertising here. They are not the same thing. Advertising is something some companies do to (supposedly) strengthen their brand. Concerning the Skype message, I think they are just using the words “care” and “brand” to put a little positive sounding spin on their advertisement practices. Say what you want about the ad industry (I don’t disagree with you), but branding goes far beyond just ads.

  5. I feel your pain and can relate to the emotions associated with crappy, intrusive and totally worthless advertisements.

    What you say about online ads strikes home: “The promise of computing is to improve the human experience, and it’s hard to do that when your goal is to bring in as many users as possible so they can click on very special messages, algorithmically delivered just for them.”
    However, I would like to suggest, perhaps, that one day we could reach an advertising utopia where those algos deliver useful product information. Where each ad is actually beneficial for you, not annoying. Maybe this is the new model you speak of, maybe not. But, I also hope that one day we rise up of out of the crap and have an overall better relationship with products and brands.

    • “advertising utopia.”. Advertising. Utopia. If ever something described a lost cause – game over, eden’s garden not to rebloom – it might be the phrase “advertising utopia.” If only Adam had existed in advertising utopia, original sin could have been averted by a tantalizing catchphrase leading Adam to a call-to-action advertisement for “urge-be-gone” – the revolutionary new single-use disposable non-medicated pads for blocking eyes, ears, nose and mouth from receiving stimuli detrimental to experiencing eternal grace – while supplies last.

      I’ll take hell and a good pop-up blocker, thanks just he same.

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