• October 1, 2008
  • By David Myron, Editorial Director, CRM and Speech Technology magazines and SmartCustomerService.com

These Marketing Messages Go to 11

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We’ve reported in the past on the effects that poor marketing efforts have on consumers. Customers are bombarded by so many messages that they’re tuning out, making it increasingly difficult for any messages to get through. Instead of better targeting their audiences, some marketers are responding in ways that are abusive.

Recently, my wife Galia and I watched the movie Walk the Line, about Johnny Cash’s rise to stardom and his romance with June Carter. If you haven’t seen it, you should—Joaquin Phoenix and Reese Witherspoon deserved all the praise they received for their performances. We’d meant to see the movie in the theater, but we missed it. So when it aired on the basic-cable channel FX, we opted to endure the editing, the censorship, and the commercial interruptions. The common complaints about viewing theatrical movies on TV usually center on censorship and editing, but this time it was the commercials that tarnished our experience. And it wasn’t even the interruptions that bothered us so much—well, OK, maybe a little, but that’s a price we were willing to pay. It’s that we didn’t know we’d be sacrificing our hearing.

In an attempt to understand some of Phoenix’s mumblings, we’d turned the volume up to settings I’ve never seen before. (To be fair, he was competing with our air conditioner.) Then something obscene happened: The movie cut to a commercial, and my wife and I were attacked by a wall of volume that knocked us both back. I quickly fumbled with the remote to press the mute button. Then I looked over at Galia, only to see her jamming her fingers into her ears. Her body was stiff and her eyes were squinting as if she were in pain.

Commercials are supposed to be no louder than the loudest part of a television program, but they’re often electronically tweaked to play every part at the maximum allowable levels. It’s another example of marketers overwhelming consumers.

It reminded me of a bandmate years ago who would turn the volume up on his bass guitar to create a “fuller” sound—not unlike the scene in the movie This Is Spinal Tap [forgive our system's inability to replicate the title's umlaut. –Ed.] when a character named Nigel marvels over the volume settings on his amp and boasts, “These go to 11.” I tried to reason with my bassist that turning his amp up that loud wouldn’t create a fuller sound; it would just make him sound louder—and that he’d be drowning out the lead guitar and vocals. Similarly, if the message in a television commercial isn’t compelling, simply raising the volume isn’t going to make it so; the aural attack just makes viewers scramble for the mute button.

It’s unfortunate that marketers need to be curbed, but too many are overstepping their bounds, which is why we present the feature story, “How Much Marketing Is Too Much?,” by Assistant Editor Jessica Tsai. The story gives examples of marketing strategies that don’t work and efforts that can even damage a brand. Read this story—before you, too, end up branded as a Nigel of marketing.

David Myron
Editorial Director


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