An age of reason will aid the revolutionary cause

Some online marketers persist in using the bully-boy tactics of the past by harassing surfers with pop-ups.

Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve been experiencing a heightened sense of the (very) good, the (very) bad and the (downright) ugly in this merry old digital revolution of ours. First, Kodak’s current television advertisement. It wants us to please, please, pretty please print out some of our digital photos, using its brand spanking new digital development centres.

As I watched the ad, I thought of a new kind of marketing angle, in which an advertiser would in effect beg for business. Kodak’s spiel might go something like this: “Look, we are horribly, frighteningly dependent on old-school photographic processes, which none of you are using anymore. We have lost the battle in trying to stop you from buying digital cameras, but couldn’t you show us some mercy by printing out at least one or two of your pictures? We’d be ever so grateful.”

Those who believe in the mysterious, undying power of mega-brands will no doubt feel it’s just a matter of time before Kodak has slickly reinvented itself for the digital age. But I certainly wouldn’t want to bet on it right now. Either way, it should make a great case study for future marketers.

The so-called “last mile” remains the last refuge of pre-digital dinosaurs – companies which seem to take a sadistic pleasure in making life hell for consumers. I’m referring, of course, to courier companies. Waiting for a replacement mobile phone from Carphone Warehouse, having recently been mugged, I felt mugged again on discovering that my day-long imprisonment at home had somehow passed the delivery guy by. Apparently, he had been and gone, rung the bell and left a note – and I, sitting twitchily by the intercom, had been completely unaware of all this. Amazing.

The irony was lost on my Carphone contact, of course: a phone company delivering a phone yet somehow no one was able to phone me to alert me to the attempted delivery. As I have said before, this is by far the weakest link in the 21st-century marketing chain. And there is a woeful lack of new initiatives here.

Sure, a few companies such as Collectpoint are trying to bridge the gap, but the scale of the problem swamps their relatively meagre efforts. Courier companies should not hold the balance of power, yet they do. And in their eyes, we the consumers are very much at their convenience.

Then there’s online advertising. Google has been carrying a one-line text ad just below the search box – for a piece of digital photo software called Picasa. Already famous in its own right, Picasa was recently bought by Google. I noticed the ad immediately – the stand-out was incredible given the purity of the usually empty space on Google. I immediately downloaded the free software and have been happily using it ever since.

And it seems I was not alone. Website traffic monitoring company Hitwise reports a dramatic impact on visits to the Picasa website, catapulting it from relative obscurity into one of the UK’s most visited sites in the space of a week. That is a prime example of the power of online real estate. Paying attention, Kodak?

Another example of online genius at work – our old friend viral e-mails (Robert Dwek, MW June 24). I was sent a link to a very amusing short film satirising both US presidential candidates. The animation was shown on the Atom Films website.

After watching it several times, I stayed on the site to have a look around and ended up downloading software that allows higher-definition viewing, but more importantly, also lets short films download invisibly to your computer while you’re doing other things. You are then alerted once the download is complete. Huge potential for this kind of thing and, more importantly, it took just minutes for me to make the transition from viral e-mail to full-blown customer relationship.

The downloaded short films I watched were all preceded by a Levi’s ad. This was intrusive but acceptable, since I implicitly accepted the deal and felt that the ad vaguely enhanced the cinema-like experience.

At the other end of the spectrum, pop-up ads simply have to go. They are on a par with spam, yet many websites continue to insult us with these abominations. Pop-up blockers are working wonders, and advertisers should realise this by now, but one or two still manage to get through. Timely, then, that new research from Web behaviour specialist Bunnyfoot Universality claims that 90 per cent of pop-up click-throughs occur by mistake. It says misleading ads mean over-inflated success rates and huge wastage for big-name brands. And the main reason for the mistaken click? The “click here to close” button is so hard to find.

Only marginally less obnoxious are interstitials – ads which appear when you move to a new Web page. They hog the screen and offer only the tiniest “close” button. The Sunday Times loves these intrusive ads, but I suspect its online readers are silently praying for an interstitial blocker.

These techniques are just too reminiscent of old-school, bully-the-customer- into-submission style marketing.

dwek@journalist.co.uk

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