Sunday, 2 November 2008

Urban spam, coming soon to a space near you

In the post 'design engaged the second', Russell Davies discusses 'urban spam' (my emphasis in bold):

The dataspace of the well-tempered environment will soon be invaded by logos, credits, banners and offers. The financial temptations will, I suspect, be too hard to resist.

...in recent years the declining efficacy of regular 'broadcast advertising' has created the largely horrible ambient and guerilla media industries - a huge marketing arms race aiming to squeeze every drop of attention from unwilling eyeballs.

I think we object to this so much for a number of reasons:

a. Because it doesn't feel like a societally negotiated deal. We're basically OK with the notion of ads in newspapers on in the middle of Coronation Street. That's a deal we've done. We'll swap that much attention for that much subsidised media. But every new bit of spam forces us to examine that deal again; is it worth doing? Are we willing to swap this bit of attention for that bit of fun or utility or free stuff?

b. The deal isn't that clear. What do I get out of Coffee Republic selling space on their tables? Is their coffee noticeably cheaper or better? Are the staff better paid and more cheerful? What do I get out of the way you've brokered my attention?



Particularly b. What do I, the customer, get in return for the slice of my soul you're stealing?

And further:

4. We need to stop describing ad-supported things as 'free'. There might be no exchange of cash but there's an exchange of attention and cognition. The marketing business justifies a lot of crap on the basis that it's giving things away for free. If we paused and recognised that they're not actually free then we might think harder about whether it's the right thing to do. We might do smarter, better things if we recognise the cost we're imposing on people without their permission.


Go read the whole thing, the pictures are also very useful and it summarises lots of the things that have been bothering me about the ads that are popping up in any spare space.

So why am I posting this here? Partly because the commercialisation of previously ad-free space annoys me, but partly I think it's a discussion worth having while the field is relatively new and norms are being erm, normalised.

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