Branding Beat - Cut Through the Noise

When Advertising Goes Too Far: An Online Lesson for Marketers

The first time I saw an ad over a urinal, I thought to myself: “Wow, what a creative place to put advertising” I felt: I’m standing here staring at the wall anyways, now I actually have something to read. But then again, I’m a marketer. When I came out of the bathroom, I remember talking about the ad with a friend, who seemed more annoyed than anything else. I was reminded: people generally don’t like advertising. Ads like this are seen as intrusive and ugly…even if they serve as entertainment where you might otherwise have none.

I also remember the first time I saw a commercial in the movie theater. I distinctly remember the people next to me (quite annoyed) saying: “Is there nowhere they won’t put advertising?” Personally, I was relieved that the awful muzak had stopped and there was something else to keep me occupied…but again, advertising can be entertainment to me… I sometimes need to remind myself: that’s what I do for a living.

The online world is really no different. If you try to get creative with your ads, people get annoyed. REALLY annoyed. Only now, with the power of the Internet, you’ll know about it. The online world is full of people with strong opinions. And these communities are more than just used to things working a certain way. Oh sure, you can get away with adding a few banners on the top and side of your website, but if you try to get more invasive with your ads (hold on while I close out of a pop-up), you might want to consider turning off comments (if you have them) because you’re likely to get an earful. Here are a two recent examples of this:

This week, the popular social bookmarking news site, played with a new form of advertising where the background of certain submission pages was replaced with a large advertisement for an online game called Dragon Age. Less than a day later, a story hits the front page condemning the new ads. The submission hit nearly 10,000 diggs (a remarkably high number) expressing the communities clear disgust with these new ads.


Reading through the comments, (there’s 830 of them) it’s pretty clear how the ad campaign was being received. Most of the resistance is focused at Digg for selling the space, but some of the comments actually condemn the advertiser directly:

“advertisers: this kinda bull$%!# makes me NOT want to buy your product. I built a hatred for it and then I have zero interest. I will never buy your stuff.“

One interesting thing to note is that an early comment even suggests a way to block the ads using a simple script. This spawned another popular submission highlighting the method: but again the 516 comments there simply reiterated:

“we shouldn’t have to do this in the first place”

The ironic part is this comes just a couple of months after Digg launched another new type of ad on the front page that blends in with the normal results. The resistance for these (though present) was not quite as strong. The background ads have since been removed.

About a year ago, YouTube was forced to remove all videos that included music from artists under contract with record label Warner Music. Today those videos are starting to come back, but with a price. YouTube agreed to a deal with the label to include branded pages with links out to artist websites and places to purchase the music wherever a copyrighted song is part of a video.

These branded pages are already starting to get some very negative feedback from the community. From a Madonna Video page:

“I see YouTube branding has descended into circa-2005-myspace hell.? Ugh.“

While YouTube is not fully to blame (this time), their community will hardly see it that way. The google owned property has taken recent steps to make sure copyrighted materials are given their due credit so that revenue is passed on to the rightful owner of the songs. These branded pages, however, are certainly not what they had in mind, and it is yet to be seen how long it will last. Judging by the early reactions, not too long.

The lesson here is pretty clear: It’s not that people just don’t like advertising. For better or worse, traditional advertising has become an everyday part of our lives. It’s when advertising goes out of it’s way to get our attention that it becomes a nuisance. From an advertiser’s perspective, it seems like a good deal. Attention is good, right? The truth is: in some cases, it’s actually not. Advertisers need to find other ways to garnish attention than unattractive in-your-face gaudiness. Otherwise, they’ll be looked at no differently than telemarketers that call during dinner time.


Bubba is the Quality Logo Products mascot. He may have started out as "just a stress ball," but he's come a long way since the company's launch in 2003. Bubba has been immortalized in numerous vector artwork designs for internal and external promotions, and you can see him change outfits on the Quality Logo Products homepage whenever a holiday rolls around. Oh, and he thinks pants are for the birds. You can connect with Bubba on


  1. Chris Countey

    Great article. It may just make me rethink our online ad strategy. Thank for you putting in the time to research this and I will be back to read more. (And I’m a competitor.)

  2. Kayfabe

    exactly! When someone covers my screen with a popup ad or an annoying page I cannot fid the X out button fast enough. I do not even bothor to see or know whats being advertised because the fact that you have wasted my time means I do not care& you have lost my business. All I do is quickly see who has annoyed me so I can avoid you in the future! The same applies to banners above and below the screen because it slows down page liading& makes things like iPods crash over& over! So even though it is not directly messing up the text, it is still messing up the browser. Ads should legally be forced to appear only in certain places, the middle of someones searching or reading online NOT one of them. Maybe limit you guys to print ads and in between TV shows- then people like me can buy streaming and not watch regular TV and avoid your stupid pushy ads even further! Who gets my business- companies who exist quietly but still make money obviously. Who do not bothor me or shove in my face anything. I dont care abt your advertising or your products, now keep them off my computer screen!

  3. eduardo maldonado

    I agree 10000%. its just as annoying as when you go shopping to a best buy per se and they ask if you want to make a donation for some other company, I’m thinking F * C K Y O U your company makes millions on revenue, you pay your employees s#!t and you want me to make a donation so you get a big tax break at the end of the “year” NO you make the donation your damn self with all your millions!

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