Caution: Advertising Overload Ahead

3 min read

A year or so ago, an Uber driver in Boston introduced my husband, John, to the Camino de Santiago, an ancient pilgrimage across the Spanish countryside. That chance meeting resulted in a six-week sabbatical to walk 500 miles armed with only walking sticks and a 16-pound backpack. But that adventure is his story to tell.

My story begins in the Madrid-Barajas International Airport on my way to meet him at the end of the journey.

A story about advertising (naturally)

So here I am, a weary world traveler in a quiet terminal illuminated only by the soft lighting reflected up on the curved wood ceiling panels. It is 5 a.m. Nothing is open and I am too amped to sleep. So, faced with a six-hour layover before my flight to Santiago, I walked.

The Madrid airport is one of the largest in Europe. More than 40 million people fly through Madrid every year. (By comparison, IND has 8.5 million travelers a year.) That’s a lot of eyeballs for advertisers. But there were very few advertisements to be seen. Except for a row of small digital boards, there was a surprising lack of happy, smiling stock photos and 400-point typeface. And not a sponsor-wrapped column in sight.

Madrid Airport
Terminal 4—Madrid-Barajas International Airport

My reunion was emotional and the vacation was great. But that’s not really the point of this blog. So let’s fast forward to the end of my trip.

overwhelmed in america

So here we are, weary travelers jetlagged from the six-hour time difference in JFK, the largest international airport in America. I’m not kidding when I say we were bombarded with ads from the moment we left customs.

JFK airport ads
This option is called “The Spectacular.”

JFK is an utility company’s technicolor dream. The Hilton practically owns the people mover connecting the international and domestic terminals. There are floor-to-ceiling banners. There are interactive ads. Ads on the TV screens in the restaurants. Video ads, terminal takeovers, 3D installations, ads everywhere. Compared to the Madrid airport, and a similar lack of display advertising throughout the Galician region, this was no visual delight.

As our own Christine Hudson discovered at InBound 2017, the blitzkrieg of advertising is predicted to only get worse. Future advertising may pop up on any flat surface. Or even in some of our most scenic views. Earlier this month, Snap (the parent company of Snapchat) launched a partnership with artist Jeff Koons on an augmented reality project that allows you to see his sculptures around the world.

Jeff Koons Snapchat art
The invasion of 3D advertising is coming.

Being in the business, it may sound counterintuitive for me to dream of a world with less advertising. But I do. I hope that once the marketing community is done playing will the possibilities, it will get back to the business of delivering the right advertising at the right time to the right people.

Blocking the visual noise

At one time, digital display mirrored my experience at JFK—online banners all over the place. With few exceptions (I’m looking at you, news sites), the use of display advertising is on the decline. Why? Conversion rates are down and the use of adblockers is up 30% worldwide.

Brands are realizing that consumers are increasingly frustrated by the visual overload and the search engines that deliver content are listening. Google is even testing a built-in adblocker for Chrome.

Do I think the pendulum will swing in that direction for real-world ads too? I do, but probably not anytime soon. AdWeek recently published an article about the growth in experiential marketing that pushes brands into your daily life.

Push marketing has never been the long-term way to consumers’ hearts. And I predict people will become bored with brand-driven augmented reality, probably sooner rather than later. But if I’m wrong, you can find me back in Spain.