Don’t interrupt me!

Written on 15 August, 2010 by Jonathan Crossfield
Categories: Marketing | Tags: customer behaviour, web design

Every day I visit The Sydney Morning Herald online to catch up on news. Recently, these visits have become marred by rich-media overlaid advertising that seems to be focused entirely on interrupting my news-reading experience.

Some of these adverts are extremely clever in using transparent backdrops and disguising the close button to prevent the user from closing the graphic too quickly. The transparency also can create the impression that you are still looking at the newspaper home page – except for the bouncing ball or animated headline moving through the centre of the screen. This can cause further frustrations as I try in vain to click on the news story that has caught my eye, only to discover I’ve been tricked gain by an intrusive piece of advertising that I didn’t want and has now caused me inconvenience.

Interruption marketing

These forms of interruption marketing are still very popular with advertising agencies and businesses that seem to have very little understanding of consumer behaviour. Yes, they attract attention. Yes, they receive click-throughs – although how many of those clicks are mistakes as the person tries to get away from the ad I have no idea.

When walking from your office to lunch, do you like being stopped by every charity collector and survey researcher with a clipboard? Most people don’t like being stopped on the street without a really good reason. The internet is no different. I’m on a journey to read my email or find the news headlines, but someone has just stepped in front of me asking whether I have a moment.

Interruption marketing should never annoy. You are getting in the way of the user doing what they want to do. Why should they be well-disposed to you after you have made that process one step harder?

Interrupting with value

Sometimes, interruption marketing can work. Usually humour or some imaginative creative design can reward the user in return for the inconvenience. But this takes exceptional talent.

One of the most common of interruption marketing is direct mail – the advertising that appears in your letter box. Yet, the majority of direct mail that hits my letter box is seen as an unwanted distraction. Letters from financial institutions, real estate agents or Reader’s Digest – no matter how attractive the offer – very rarely win the right to interrupt my journey from the front door to a beer on the sofa after a long day at work. The exceptionally rare occasions that they do manage to get my attention are because of something arresting and highly attractive in the creative approach taken to the advertisement. This is why there are annual awards to recognize the highly attractive direct mail pieces that succeeded in turning an unwanted interruption into a positive experience for the recipient.

Online forms of interruption marketing include pop-ups, overlays and email marketing. Each needs to provide a highly persuasive reason for the vast majority of recipients to stop what they are doing and follow the different path. Failure to capture the user’s interest in this way risks causing annoyance and resentment to your brand.

What’s in it for them?

When sending an email campaign, what reason are you giving the reader to click on your message when they are working through their inbox? It doesn’t matter what you would like the user to do. What matters is what is in it for them. Give them something compelling, not just your latest product launch which may only be relevant to a small proportion and – most of the time – is not ‘stop everything’ news.

Subject lines can entice higher open rates by speaking to the user’s motivation. Tell them how opening the email can benefit them, either through entertainment, unique and usable information or providing truly desirable offers.

Personally, I would avoid overlays and pop-ups. Think about your own experience. Do you usually click on them or sigh in frustration as you close it? There are probably some exceptionally successful overlay campaigns out there, but as most rely on interrupting my attempt to read the top headlines each morning, none have yet convinced me that a particular brand is worthy of my attention.