How Traditional and Creative Marketing harms User Experience

by Danielle Arad on December 12, 2012

in Marketing, People, User Experience

Marketing and User Experience

It’s no secret that on a good day, successful and effective marketing is a fickle thing and a source of either grief or elation in the business world. However, the secret to success, or utter failure, is of course ultimately in the end-user’s experience. The problem here lies in the fact that both creative and traditional marketing methods can serve to be far more harmful than helpful in appealing an idea, service, or product to a customer.

This is certainly a topic that can be somewhat complicated into which to delve; however, this issue is something which marketing professionals, user experience professionals, and end-users or consumers alike should adopt and understand. As a result, perhaps some level of mutual understanding can be reached when marketing tactics do not work positively for the end-users overall experience of the product, an inevitable outcome some of the time.

With traditional marketing, one of the largest flaws is the medium through which marketing and advertising is conventionally delivered. With two of the most traditional tropes, television and radio, it is impossible to target particularly specific demographics. This results in generalized demographics via programming context and time slot generalization.

marketingIn an effort to offset these limitations, traditional marketing has attempted to be less obtrusive when advertising a product only half a demographic physically has a use for, such as feminine product or male shaving implements, for example, down playing feminine products or male shaving products and how they are advertised. This is harmful because the user will ultimately forget they even heard about the product. It becomes white noise, which is far less forgivable than misplaced marketing by a great amount.

Product placement is another traditional marketing tactic used in partner with television or movie productions, and is, in most cases, harmful to all involved. If the product placement is particularly blatant (a good example is the brought-to-life soft drink machine in Michael Bay’s “Transformers“), it can actually harm the production’s credibility in the eye of the users, reducing their enjoyment of something they likely paid money to see. They will instinctively weigh this advertising and marketing strategy against the amount of money they paid for during admission. It can harm the product or service equally, as it can cause the viewer to possess a negative view of the product in light of its devaluing of the movie they just watched.

Moving on to newer incarnations of traditional marketing strategies, internet marketing and advertising is probably a great deal more harmful. While ad revenue is a very lucrative catalyst in online activity, fueling internet media, large websites and entire services themselves, it is considered by most users to be incredibly annoying. Banner ads clutter websites and make them hard to read, reducing the experience for users. Ads that interrupt video feeds are considered by most to be obnoxious (as are they via television), and pop ups are probably viewed by most to be the worst technique of them all. As a result, for a long time, users would simply refuse to use sites and services they knew to be peppered with marketing ploys and advertisements. This caused users to miss out on great products as well as the services their advertising funded.

In recent years, with add-on browser architecture, this has shifted to a heavy use of ad blocking extensions, which can often cripple sites and result in the user not knowing when upgrades to services or products are available – meaning they miss out. This is severely detrimental to the user, but is viewed by most to be less of a personal loss than the obtrusiveness of internet marketing and advertising in its current forms.

However, while traditional marketing does significant harm to the user, mostly via their attempts to avoid it and rendering them blind, creative marketing is more severe. When creative marketing techniques work, they work splendidly. When they fail, they fail on a level never seen in traditional techniques. Most creative marketing strategies in conventional fields involve controversy or oddities in the themes of advertisements or deals being offered. Often, these odd deals or advertising ploys serve to engage the user, be it positive or negative, but they do not truly reach them. Mistaking engagement for accrual communication with users is a common mistake made by marketing firms, especially when new and creative marketing is utilized.

A prime example of this is a web-based drawing “game” series, which is free to use and considered rather fun by armchair artists. However, as creative marketing strategy was employed, the random images users were asked to draw were sometimes company logos, mascots or products. At first, users found this amusing and somewhat engaging. However, these became more common in the random queue and the items in question more complex. Users abandoned the game out of frustration at the challenge of drawing things they weren’t interested in to begin with, resulting in the game’s eventual closing down. This resulted in creative users abandoning a program an entire community had sprung up around, seemingly overnight.

However, a more common form of annoyance is the old standby in creative marketing, the controversy and oddity approach. Again, this is most commonly used via video advertising, where a commercial is very bizarre, obnoxious or controversial (often adult humor of some mild level). These definitely are memorable to users, but often in a negative light, as they may offend some via content and utterly irritate others via being simply annoying or childish. An annoyed user is an unhappy one and their overall experience is less positive as a result.

The problem is obvious, marketing – be it creative or traditional – is a rock and a hard place, and advertising that does not put users off seems to be a holy grail that cannot be obtained. However, when marketers see large numbers of user reached and engaged properly by the marketing techniques listed above, it becomes a matter of numbers and a false perception of true company success. This in and of itself harms users and the company, for obvious reasons.

The ongoing problem with this mentality, as well as the harmful nature of traditional and creative marketing approaches, is that this complacency among marketing firms tends to prevent innovation and development of techniques with a higher gain, promotion of user-focused services, and less loss via measurement of user expectation and usability. According to most independent marketing analysts, traditional marketing still perseveres to the degree it does and creative marketing remains but a shadow of traditional marketing with a more colorful packaging due to the lack of a user-focused mentality within company structure – a huge issue and challenge user experience researchers and designers have to deal with and give into.

Time will tell if less obtrusive marketing tactics can be developed which are less harmful for user experiences. However, given the continuing shift to digital media and the prevailing use of ad filters by users, it is likely a matter of time before some new, yet to be thought of techniques will arise, which change how marketing works at its core.

Danielle Arad

Danielle Arad is Director of Marketing and User Experience Specialist of WalkMe.com, the world's first interactive website guidance system. She is also chief writer and editor of UX Motel, a blog for user experience experts. Follow her @uxmotel.

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