i-b61e88f22be3a88286529e622ac46be7-Tig Tillinghast.jpg
What can the world of technology teach the world of advertising when it comes to keeping people tuned in? A lot more than I would have guessed. Most technically savvy people I know do everything in their power to avoid advertisments. But lately, it’s become more difficult to avoid the ads that have a simple message and are very relevant to our lives.

Perhaps that’s a function of simple text ads that come up on the sidebar of Google and Yahoo searches — usually in the topic that you’re interested in. If your search is commerce-related, you can’t help but check out some of the merchants listed in the paid section. These are ads that are targeted very closely to what you’re looking for at that moment.

When it comes to TV, radio and print ads, the same can’t be said. A TV show might reach a certain demographic that’s generally interested in the product being hawked, but so often it’s just a wasted ad that we could care less about. Thus the rise of VCRs, TiVos and DVRs so we can skip the ads we don’t want to watch.

So not too surprisingly, when I asked you what advertisments you would actually pay attention to, you mainly responded that relevant ads would keep you tuned in. Tig Tillinghast (pictured above with dogs), who runs the online marketing blog MarketingVOX as well as the MediaBuyerPlanner.com site told me via email that there’s a limit to how many times people will want to watch the same ad — even if it’s relevant to them.

“When ads are run in a target audience in which the product is relevant, there is a perception — even among those who do not personally have need — that it is appropriate,” Tillinghast said. “This presense, though, is seen as abusive when the frequency becomes high. The third time someone sees the ad in an hour, it’s simply torture. Television [ads are] bought and sold in a way that often prevents advertisers from having a great deal of control over frequency.”

While many people love the entertaining ads from the Super Bowl — and yes, they’ll pay attention to them — do they even remember what was being pitched?

“The ads that people like to see sometimes match up with ads that prove effective for advertisers — but not always,” Tillinghast said. “Yes, we’re media dorks, but my wife and I have what is practically a routine, where one of us will say ‘Great ad,’ and then the other will ask, ‘So what brand was it?’ Um, Miller? Maybe Bud? OK, it was a fun ad.”

i-5ae42c9d9d361d0f3c4ce66ae598aedd-Steve Hall AdRants.jpg
Steve Hall (pictured here), who writes the entertaining AdRants blog, says advertisers should cut the big production numbers in exchange for a simple pitch for what they’re selling. This is the KISS principle, a.k.a. “keep it simple, stupid.”

“I’ve always thought a return to simplicity would work,” Hall told me via email. “In other words, toss aside all the over-produced, poor-excuse-for-entertainment
commercials we see today and just explain the product. Tell the viewer what you’re selling, who it’s for, why they’d benefit from it and where they can buy it. Sounds simple but rarely does a commercial accomplish those simple goals. I’d be happy if just a spokesperson stood in front of a white background and talked to me.”

Backing Hall up is Chris Abraham, who commented on MediaShift and on his own marketing blog how much he liked simple voiced ads from radio hosts for Purina ONE dog food. The live testimonies worked for Abraham.

“Do I feel betrayed? Used? No! I love it,” wrote Abraham. “There is a sweet old world charm as though I were suddenly thrust into the Jack Benny program. There is a lightness of being in their respective stories that don’t require me to care about the advertising or care about the salesmanship; it is the fact that these men are really likeable and we trust them and listen to them and hey, you have to pay the bills and we would rather enjoy their charm and warmth (and they do own dogs, after all — it isn’t a lie!) than the awful commercial breaks.”

But taking a counterpoint to Hall is a commenter named Sparo, who blasted Hall’s entry about KISS as being off the mark.

“Storytelling is a what sells ANY kind of entertainment and MOST kinds of information,” Sparo said. “Good stories sell, not plain facts. Who were your favorite teachers in school? Not the poindexters, I’ll bet, but the people who presented what was otherwise empty data with verve, with anecdotes and with joie de vivre…If today’s commercials are failing, it is because good storytelling is a difficult thing. This applies just as much to novels, films, and video games as it does to advertising.”

But again, storytelling only gets you so far if your product isn’t relevant. Wende Burbridge, who is an account executive at public TV station WYIN in Indiana, said that she pays much more attention to ads now that she sells underwriting. But the bottom line is relevancy for her.

“I do have to say that the kind of messages that draw my attention most (and always have) were messages I found relevant to me and my loved ones,” Burbridge wrote. “Of course, what is relevant today, may not be a month from now.”

Tony Comstock, who makes adult films and blogs about them, said that when he’s in the market for a particular product, he almost gets obsessed with the ads for that product.

“I don’t really notice advertising…until an ad comes on for something I’m in the market to buy,” Comstock wrote. “For example, some years ago I was in the market for a three door auto. Ads for such vehicles became riveting. My brain seemed to suddenly think there was secret information that would help me in my buying decision coded into the ads that I would be able to glean if I paid close enough attention. (This may in fact be so. The car I ended up choosing gave me trouble free service for 160,000 miles until it was rear-ended and totalled. Even then, I escaped unscathed.)”

Diane Ensey, who writes a review of top bloggers called the A-List Review, said the most memorable ads will still not make the brands memorable unless they’re relevant to her.

“There are many ads out there that I remember (the herding cats ad comes to mind) but I couldn’t tell you who it is for,” Ensey said. “Similarly the ad where the actors/singers/sports stars sit in people’s laps — is it a computer commercial or an iTunes type of commercial? I remember the company when the ad is relevant to what I need at any given moment.”

As we watch less TV, listen to less radio and read less newspapers, our migration to Internet time means that advertisers and marketers will have to re-think the ways they can get our attention — and think up new ways they can harness technology and storytelling to stay relevant to us without annoying us.