Last year in San Francisco a group of commuters got on a train and did what commuters normally do.
They took out their mobile phones.
They played games on them, read books, magazines, papers.
Everything completely normal, nothing remotely out of the ordinary.
As the train pulled into the station one of the commuters blew the back of another commuter’s head off.
Everyone was shocked and confused, that it could happen so suddenly, that it came out of nowhere.
But they were even more confused when they saw the replay on the security cameras.
It hadn’t happened suddenly at all.
The gunman had been waving a large calibre .45 automatic handgun around for the entire journey.
Four or five times he took it out of his pocket and waved it around in plain sight.
He even wiped his nose with the hand holding the gun.
No one who was looking could have failed to see the weapon.
And that was the problem.
No one was looking.
Everyone was involved in their own world, their mobile phones.
Playing games, reading books, magazines, papers.
They weren’t part of the same world as the gunman, so they didn’t see him waving the gun around.
Twelve passengers, sitting as close as three feet away, and no one noticed anything.
And the news media is shocked at the behaviour of those commuters.
They didn’t notice anything because they weren’t interrupted.
Surely that isn’t news.
Except for all the digital gurus who were saying advertising is dead because it’s based on the old interruption model.
Funny thing though.
Have you ever tried to watch a video on YouTube without the mandatory pre-roll?
The one that says you have to wait 4 seconds to skip the ad.
What’s that if it isn’t interruption?
Have you ever turned on Facebook and noticed how many sponsored messages there are in your timeline?
What’s that if it isn’t interruption?
Have you ever noticed annoying spam tweets in your Twitter inbox, from people you don’t follow?
What’s that if it isn’t interruption?
These interruptions are badly done and annoying.
If you’re going to interrupt someone the least you can do is be entertaining.
It’s a transaction.
I’ll give you something interesting in exchange for some of your attention.
If I don’t give you something interesting, you’ll ignore it.
It’s always been that way.
Digital gurus need to learn it isn’t a matter of what you do, it’s a matter of how well you do whatever you do.
Good ads work, bad ads don’t.
Whether on TV, radio, posters, press, Facebook, YouTube or Twitter.

To get someone’s attention you have to interrupt them.
And they won’t pay attention if they’re not interested.

  • sallyormond

    Your blog interrupted me Dave – common sense prevails once more. As you say, there are so many annoying ads these days that get on my wick, it has to be something stonkingly good to make me sit up and take notice. But whether it would make me buy is another matter entirely.

  • john p woods

    Wouldn’t you say the key is putting one’s own perception of reality into context? Before mobile’s it used to be called ‘Day Dreaming’ and we’d all be yanked back into the real world via a chalk duster or some other flying missile. Surely there is a responsibility by the consumer to pay attention to what’s going on around them or on their own heads be it?

  • Dave Trott

    Sally, John, I’m not saying interruption itself is good or bad.
    Just that without interruption a communication can’t work.
    That’s the dumb thing about “the old interruption model is dead” that digital gurus kept repeating.
    Try and have any interaction without interruption, see how far you get.
    It’s like holding up an ad to the back of someone’s head and wondering why it doesn’t work.
    And as you say Sally, interruption isn’t the whole job.
    If it isn’t something worth watching I won’t let it interrupt me.

    • john p woods

      Thinking nobody gives a shit is an excellent starting point for all creative advertising work.

  • Dave Trott

    Couldn’t have put it better John.
    It’s the lesson very few people, except greats like Webster, learn.
    Most ad people think “No one gives a shit about advertising so let’s do stuff that’s got nothing to do with advertising.”
    Webster thought “Most people don’t give a shit about advertising so let’s do advertising that’s really interesting.”
    The second is a lot tougher which is why most ad people don’t do it.

    • Jason B

      Absolutely. Unfortunately these days, if you only want to do advertising that’s really interesting – nobody’s interested in you.

  • http://brandmentalist.com/ Mo Seetubtim

    Well said, Dave.

  • Jason B

    Ah, come the day ‘digital’ advertising just becomes advertising again. The only people who bang on about the ‘old interruption’ model – are the ones who have ground to lose to people who know how to create good advertising. Whilst Digital gurus might admit that a new media opportunity isn’t an idea – the only thing they seem to do with these new opportunities, is over-indulge themselves, or annoy people. And if they are gurus, why isn’t all the great design and content on the web being created by digital ad agencies instead of individuals?

  • B Ath

    Actually Dave you are wrong about interaction without interruption.

    I run a value exchange business where people view ads in return for mobile data.

    Cognitive engagement, as measured by ad recall, message attribution, purchase consideration, click through rates and shares are all *way* better then the norm. Research was carried out by Decipher research on our platform (www.sambamobile.com) for an EA campaign in Q1 2013.

    But this is also true across our entire ad viewing database – over 10 million interactions.

    The conclusion is that if you offer people a fair value exchange – then they will interact with your ad.

    Of course the greatest pieces of content / ads (1%?) can get by by interrupting – by virtue of their greatness.

    But the rest (99%) need to offer something or be ignored.

    People know they are going to get interrupted by unwanted (the majority) of ads – why not get paid for watching what they are going to be interrupted by anyway?

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