interruption marketing


I’m in Turkey this week to speak at Brand Week Istanbul. I always love seeing how things are merchandized, marketed, and sold in different countries.

The Grand Bazaar is a dizzying experience with over 3,000 shops trying to get the attention of between 250,000 and 400,000 visitors on a typical day (I preferred the smaller bazaars tucked in smaller streets around the city). With so much competition, shopkeepers can be pretty aggressive, trying every technique to interrupt people before they get to the next shopkeeper.

It struck me how the bazaar is a metaphor for marketing in general. Every brand is trying to capture consumer’s attention in a world as cluttered as the Grand Bazaar. Marketers sometimes act as if shouting is the only way to get a message across. When every brand shouts, it can seem like the only solution is to shout louder.

Seth Godin coined this model as “Interruption Marketing” in the late 90s (and wrote the book “Permission Marketing” as an antidote). I stumbled across a classic Seth Godin interview in Fast Company from 1998:

“Marketing is a contest for people’s attention. Thirty years ago, people gave you their attention if you simply asked for it. You’d interrupt their TV program, and they’d listen to what you had to say. You’d put a billboard on the highway, and they’d look at it. That’s not true anymore. This year, the average consumer will see or hear 1 million marketing messages – that’s almost 3,000 per day. No human being can pay attention to 3,000 messages every day.

“The interruption model is extremely effective when there’s not an overflow of interruptions. If you tap someone on the shoulder at church, you’re going to get that person’s attention. But there’s too much going on in our lives for us to enjoy being interrupted anymore. So our natural response is to ignore the interruptions….

“Interruption marketing is giving way to a new model that I call permission marketing. The challenge for companies is to persuade consumers to raise their hands – to volunteer their attention. You tell consumers a little something about your company and its products, they tell you a little something about themselves, you tell them a little more, they tell you a little more – and over time, you create a mutually beneficial learning relationship. Permission marketing is marketing without interruptions.”

Aside from predicting that Internet banner ads will be gone by the year 2000 in that interview, Seth’s views were prescient. In a later article, Seth wrote:

“Permission marketing is the privilege (not the right) of delivering anticipated, personal and relevant messages to people who actually want to get them.

“It recognizes the new power of the best consumers to ignore marketing. It realizes that treating people with respect is the best way to earn their attention.

“Pay attention is a key phrase here, because permission marketers understand that when someone chooses to pay attention they are actually paying you with something precious. And there’s no way they can get their attention back if they change their mind. Attention becomes an important asset, something to be valued, not wasted.”

(Marketoonist Monday: I’m giving away a signed print of this week’s cartoon. Just share an insightful comment to this week’s post by 5:00 PST on Monday. Thanks!)

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10 Comments

  1. Cameron Norman says:

    Tom, another gem. The troubling part of marketing is one that really is about tragedy of the commons. The best interest of each individual marketer is to get into the best position possible so that it attracts the most number of eyeballs, perhaps the greatest attention and eventually (theoretically, at least) the best sales. However, if everyone does it then you tune it all out. Interestingly, like the bazaars in Turkey, people might be more inclined to visit the stall that is yelling the least and inviting them in, offering tea and sharing their wares rather than throwing them at people. It’s another twist on Seth Godin’s sage advice about permission.

  2. Courtney Bosch says:

    Great post! It’s so interesting to hear Seth mention how precious a consumer paying attention to your brand truly is. If a consumer gives you their time & attention, that is half the battle.

  3. Michael Banning says:

    Interruption marketing is coming perilously close to being accurately renamed Bullying marketing.

  4. Brian says:

    I was in a touristy part of Mexico last week, and as my friends and I walked down the main street looking for a place to eat, restauranteurs badgered us incessantly to come in. The place that made us stop and actually look at their menu was the one place that didn’t have anybody outside pestering potential customers. It made us wonder if it was really good since it didn’t need advertising.

  5. Rhonda says:

    Nice quotes.

    It’s a shame but I see many marketers seem to be only working with print interruption marketing, as if it’s restricted to banners and billboards. People need to work smarter and use budgets smarter.

    I remember in Singapore a few years back when the first Spider-man instalment came out, they placed a giant Spider-man on the side of a building. Thousands of shoppers stopped to take photos. Another time, there was a Mini Cooper. In Sydney they placed a real size car inside a box, like those Matchbox cars. They parked the box on the street in a real parking bay.

    It’s that kind of creativity that stops me and make me remember them 10 years or so later.

  6. Teresa says:

    I’ve been to Istanbul and know the tactics of the Grand Bazaar merchants well. I can also relate to Brian’s comment about Mexico as I experienced the same thing in Puerto Vallarta in the early 90s. I go to Italy every year and for the last 5 years, I noticed tactics that I experienced in Istanbul and Mexico. As the economy has worsened (Italians call it the “crisi”, like “crisis”), the competition for someone’s business particularly in the large cities that tourists favor is particularly tough. The merchants are desperate to keep their businesses alive and will go after the tourists pretty aggressively. Regarding marketing toward the locals, that’s another matter altogether. Most Italian citizens are very loyal to their merchants and they’re savvy regarding how they spend their money so are not so easily swayed and that requires a different level of promotion which is much less verbally aggressive. So there seems to be two audiences to market to and two different methods of marketing in many Italian cities, one that requires marketing face-to-face and one that is via traditional advertising.

  7. bob collins says:

    Interruption martketing is the polar opposite of target marketing: you throw an intrusive message at as many people as humanly possible. Will it get short-term results? The law of numbers says yes. Does it do anything for your brand’s reputation? At best, no, because your effort was wallpaper. At worst your brand becomes associated with being a nuisance. It’s such a dumb, brute force technique that I hope for the worst.

  8. Leigh says:

    Today one of the largest challenges facing radio in South Africa is clutter, and one of the most common questions posed to Media Owners by advertisers is ‘How do I break through, how do I stand out’.

    This post is so relevant to today’s environment and the solution is exactly what Seth Godin was talking about.
    Producing content which offers consumers real value, branded content which consumers look for and share, credible editorial which has the consumer and not the brand at it’s centre, push vs pull advertising.
    When attention is given willingly and the transaction is mutually beneficial to both parties, it’s magic.

  9. ThinkLikeMike says:

    ### FREE COFFEE TOMORROW AT STARBUCKS ### (Get it? Got your attention.)

  10. Tessa Stuart says:

    It is increasingly possible for the consumer to select and construct their own media feed – follow the people on Twitter that they like, including traditional news media, turn off commercial radio and listen to iTunes in the car, filter all TV ads out with iPlayer or leave the room when they play, and come back to watch the drama they have chosen. Permission marketing where folk choose to follow you and let you in to their limited time and attention has to be earned slowly over time, with content that helps them, amuses them, entertains them. Yes, brands can still do the big set pieces like Cadbury’s Drumming Gorilla TV ad, but being helpful and useful is what brands originally set out to be, an assurance of quality and something not tampered with, and those are still the key messages to convey in this age of decreasing trust and preference for word of mouth recommendation amongst customers.

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