Treating people like they’re smart

vs. treating them like they’re stupid.

Have you ever noticed that marketers repeat themselves a lot? That it’s not unusual to see 50 or 100 billboards for the same brand, or 30 or 50 promos for the same TV show?

Traditional media is filled with repetition. The more they tell us, the theory goes, the more likely we are to take action.

If you think about it, that means the marketer isn’t holding your decision making ability in very high esteem, is she? After all, a "smart" person ought to see an offer, make a decision and then move on. No need to repeat the offer, because he’s already decided.

Don’t interrupt that show to show me another promo for the series finale of Frasier. I mean, you just showed that to me an hour ago. Either I’m going to watch it or not!

Blogs are different. There’s a presumption of informed mature decision making. I come out with a new book, I mention it and then we all move on.

You’re smart. You can handle it.

How, then, do I explain the phenomenon that every time I mention a past post or an ebook or another blog, the traffic and the sales go up! Right away. A lot.

In fact, some of the biggest successes online have come from doing precisely that. AOL sent out more than 500,000,000,000 disks to people to get them join the service over the last decade. This was to an audience that was media-savvy, largely upper income and ostensibly smart.

Did you sign up the first time you got a CD? The second? The tenth?

What is it about (smart) people that makes them succumb to mindless repetition?

There’s a whole bunch of stuff that bloggers want you to do. They want you to buy stuff, read stuff, email about stuff and tell your friends about stuff. They are sorely tempted to use up their permission to talk to you by repeating themselves, because every time they do, the audience (that’s you) does what they are hoping for.

AOL annoyed everyone with their CDs. And then built a company worth many many billions of dollars on the back of that. Is annoying people worth it?

Most blogs have a center well of the "new stuff" and then links and ads along the sides. And it’s pretty sacrosanct that you put the repetitive stuff on the sides, while the center column is for the new, the stuff that people give you permission to say, the stuff that actually gets read.

A blogger in Switzerland reported that while her traffic keeps going up, her revenue from AdWords keeps going down. Why? Because she’s trained people to ignore the ads. The good stuff is in the center column, and we ignore the rest.

It’s only a matter of time before this dynamic gets wrecked. Advertising is insidious, because people are people. And people respond to interruption and repetition. The minute we stop doing that is the minute advertising stops wrecking the editorial process. I’m not going to hold my breath…

[added an hour later: smart and stupid were a poor choice of words. Since that’s my business, double apologies. I should have said alert and asleep.]