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March 18, 2009 / davebirss

Please forgive me while I interrupt you for a few minutes


A recent blog post from my friend Asi has inspired me to speak out against some of the propaganda spouted by digital agencies. Over the last few years I’ve been hearing digital people declaring “Interruptive advertising is dead! The future is all about brand engagement!”. They would say it to all of their clients. They would say it to their staff. And they’d say it to each other like some life affirming declaration of victory. The future was surely theirs!

As someone with an above-the-line heritage, this always rankled with me slightly. I could see the sense in it but it just seemed too grand and sweeping a statement. The ‘interruptive’ route is still the best option for a lot of brands. There are some brands you actually don’t want to engage with. And – to be blunt – I’ve never encountered anything quite as f&^%ing annoyingly interruptive as an expandable banner, an overlay or a pop-up.

You see, I think this interruption issue is a bit of a red herring. As Asi points out, there are good interruptions and bad interruptions. It’s a phone call from a friend versus an automated call from a double glazing company. Or your best mate turning up at your door with a big homemade cake versus a couple of Mormons trying to save your soul. It’s all about how much of an emotional reward you get out of the interruption, surely.

And moving onto the other side of the argument, why do digital people think they are the only ones capable of doing engagement? Lots of traditional advertising over the years has been incredibly engaging. I remember imitating the Smash robots in the playground at school. I remember doing the ‘phut phut phut’ noises of a coffee percolator just like the TV ad. I remember schoolkids perforating eardrums when they ‘Tangoed‘ each other. All of these are perfect examples of brand engagement. That’s what happens when marketing activity gets into people’s minds and becomes part of our culture.

Please, my digital friends, stop seeing this as an ‘us and them’ situation. It’s not like that now. It’s about doing great work that’s rewarding for the right audience. And picking the right media to put it. Sometimes that’s online and sometimes it just happens to be a TV ad.

Now let’s shake hands and play nicely.

What do you think? Please interrupt me with your thoughts.


Leave a Comment
  1. eaon / Mar 18 2009 6:18 pm

    The effectiveness of marketing directly relates to the level of permission involved re:Engagement
    Something I’ve chosen to interact with is far more meaningful than something thrown at me. Its over mate better get used to it. E 😉

  2. Anthony Dickens / Mar 18 2009 6:42 pm

    … and sometimes it’s a piece of innovative 3D design that enhances the clients product or service whilst working as a vehicle to convey their brand DNA in an object that the required demographic desires, respects and you know what? Even needs.

  3. John / Mar 18 2009 7:01 pm

    I think a lot of people working in digital advertising get really tired of people who come from traditional advertising thinking that brand communications = TV spot (and/or possibly print ad). Brand engagement can, of course, come from any brand/consumer touch point (ideally with the product or service itself being the biggest one) and digital certainly doesn’t have that cornered. But… digital offers so many opportunities for engagement and is often a poor tool for reach, so an engagement focus is natural.

  4. davebirss / Mar 18 2009 7:24 pm

    Hi Eaon,

    I agree that people will respond better when they’ve given a brand permission to talk to them. But I think that’s only one definition of engagement. That’s perfect for when a brand is building a relationship and hopefully loyalty from repeat buyers or prospective high-margin consumers.

    But the engagement that digital people have been talking about just doesn’t suit all brands (and please understand that I myself am considered to be a digital person). I don’t want to be a Facebook fan of Tate and Lyle. I don’t want to be getting emails from Mister Muscle. And I don’t want to pass on videos of some KPMG consultants lipsynching to Nik Kershaw. There are only a few brands that I would want to engage with in this way. And should I decide to engage with them on this level, the willingness to do so comes from factors other than their online presence. It comes from the product quality, the product design and the brand. And one of the things that would influence my perception of that brand is traditional ‘interruptive’ advertising.

    And this term is also a bit like pot and kettle – lots of online stuff is ‘interruptive’ as well.

    I suppose what I’m trying to say is that it’s not us and them. It’s not digital or advertising. The consumer is on a journey towards buying a product and different things have their place in that journey. Including traditional advertising. I’d just love to see it all integrated properly somehow.

    I don’t know if that answers your comment or confuses it!

    And Ant,

    Sorry for not including 3D design in this. I’ll save a rant about that for another post!


  5. davebirss / Mar 18 2009 7:40 pm

    Hi John,

    You’re absolutely right. There have been too many occasions where I’ve had to bite my tongue when the first thing the ad agency does is present a TV script as if that’s going to solve everything.


    And that’s an interesting point about digital agencies focusing on engagement because they can’t offer the same reach.

    Thanks for your feedback!


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