Ad placement shrinks to the personal level.

By Tasman Richardson

We’ve all heard less is more. But in a crowded room the temptation to yell above the noise can be tempting. I was once speaking to a group, trying to get their attention and at the same time, stay calm and collected. I found that whenever side conversations would break off or if people were zoning out, I would modulate my volume. When I spoke at a gentle normal volume and made eye contact, people were compelled to listen closer to hear what I was saying.

The way we take in entertainment has some similarities. Big screen big sound has shifted to the home theatre jumbo television and in the past five years, has migrated to our tablets and phones. The small screen has managed to hold our attention in spite of its tiny scale. The reason for this seems to be that portable is personal. Many marketers are aware of this and have turned to mobile digital media as an ideal placement for advertising. The problem is, just like big screen billboards you pass in traffic and ignore, banners in web traffic are equally annoying. It’s a three step program for invisibility: frequency leads to familiarity which leads to apathy.

The whole point of good ad placement is playing matchmaker, matching what you have to say with who you need to say it to. Digital marketing promises to deliver this by targeting what kind of banners appear when the right audience is watching but in an increasingly ethereal online format, many people crave the tactile and personal. Getting personal is what it’s really about, (small screens remember?), which brings me to coffee.

 I was walking to work and passed by a Balzac, one of the smaller coffee chains. When I got my hot bevy I popped on a sleeve to carry my cup and noticed that it was decorated and had some attractive text on it. The sleeve was a tiny ad for the Soulpepper theatre company. I happen to see a lot of their plays and it struck me that given the look of Balzac’s space, and the feel of a small independent theatre company, the pairing was a great fit. This tiny ad that I carry with me and which is a natural and reasonable pairing of tastes, with an attractive, understated, un-obnoxious design feels more thoughtful than any marketing I’ve come across in a while digital or otherwise. Why is this kind of advertising such a rarity?

Most likely, it’s because necessity is the mother of invention (and other clichés). Big businesses have big budgets and tend to think, well… big. The idea of reaching people is reduced to throwing money at the problem in the hopes of broad coverage. It’s about yelling in a crowded room instead of picking your date and whispering in their ear. That’s where small businesses thrive. It’s precisely because they don’t have the budgets to plaster billboards, that little guys need to get creative in their courtship and it’s only after these test drives are awarded for their innovative approach, that they become popular alternative methods sought after by big business. It would be interesting to see how agencies would perform if big businesses restricted their budgets to encourage more intimate personalized messages with less flash. Maybe it’s too risky (aka scary as hell) to be innovative when a massive amount of revenue is at stake?

I’ll leave you with this question phrased two ways: Are big businesses incapable of thinking small to spur creative approaches? Does a starving artist have better ideas?