Stop Handing Me Flyers While I’m Doing 75 on the 405!

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We’ve all had the experience of getting back to our car after a day of shopping at the mall and having to remove countless flyers from our windshield, promoting everything from weight loss to making money at home. A mere nuisance, their impact lasts only as long as it takes us to find the nearest garbage can.

But what if they were more than just a nuisance? Imagine driving the family down the 405 Freeway, on the way to a weekend at the beach.

You’re doing a nice seventy-five miles per hour, when all of a sudden a flyer appears—smack dab in the middle of the driver’s side windshield. Completely unnerving!

Advertisers would never think of doing that (assuming the laws of physics allowed it). Yet online, they’re doing something similar every day. For example: you’re browsing along, into paragraph three of that article on the Middle East, when you’re forced to stop, grab your mouse, and find the “close” button—because an animated ad has just sprung up onto your desktop, blocking the very words you arrived to read in the first place.

Why do we, as advertisers, think the public deserves this? What we’d never accept from advertisers in the physical world, we’re happy to lay on the public in the online counterpart. Does this really provide the user with an experience he’ll want to remember? Or is it just another annoyance in a sea of already diminished user experiences?

Occasionally, an advertiser will sponsor an entire TV show, and provide it without commercial interruption to the viewer, getting their sponsorship in before and after the event. The viewer’s quality of experience in these cases is always heightened, and the advertiser is often richly rewarded for taking this chance.

The ability to do something quite similar exists on the web. So why are we not taking greater advantage of the opportunity? Some sites “get it,” from a user perspective. Both Salon and the Economist let you visit their sites for the day with the simple option of viewing a commercial prior to your entry. No fees, no pop-ups, nothing to diminish the user experience after the user has watched the forty-five second interactive commercial at the beginning of their experience.

Premium content that would otherwise cost the user a membership fee becomes available after an explicit relationship is established between the reader and the sponsor. Think of it as the bridge between fee and free.

The result? The advertiser gets guaranteed visibility, with immediate feedback and actionable results. Click-throughs in these cases tend to register much higher than the average. And the site is rewarded by a revenue model that works.

But most importantly, the viewer isn’t disillusioned or dismayed by the experience — in fact, quite the opposite may be true. Instead, the viewer watches the ad in a quid pro quo manner: his time has become currency, which is extremely valuable to the sponsor, and he trades it in exchange for content he would normally have to pay for. In the end, he gets to the very content he wants to see, and knows that the content will be viewed in a trouble-free, distraction-free environment.

The Internet is the only medium in which a truly accountable exchange of attention for content can be utilized — a key differentiator that print and broadcast will never achieve. Yet the majority of us remain in the windshield-flyer stage.

The viewer can be our friend — in fact, the viewer can be thrilled with us, our ads, our site partners, the whole process. The key is offering him a simple and honest choice: engage with the sponsor in exchange for valuable content, or purchase the content outright. Viewers can then choose to learn about the sponsor’s product, and not see it as an intrusion, but rather, as a welcome addition to their online experience.

Quite frankly, I’d take a welcome addition over an intrusion any day — especially at seventy-five miles per hour.

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