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Seriously, does your advertising involve the customer?

The best advertising involves the customer. Sure it tells them something like “apply directly to the forehead” or whatever, but it gets the person involved. Sometimes this is through a cute rhyme or tune, or maybe a clear story so well-told a person can’t help but see themselves using or involved with what’s advertised.

Somehow in the era of online advertising all of this has gone out the window. In the one medium where we really could involve the customer, it’s either ignored or forced.

We’ve all seen ads that required you to click a choice or play a short game to get to what you were after — like a TV show on Hulu or to use an app. These are forced interactions and they do nothing but annoy people. They are the online equivalent of, “Alright everyone, let’s say our name and something fun we did this weekend.”

Unlike television where people have, at times, excelled in cinematic viewing or storytelling, or in print where words leap off a page to capture a reader’s attention online advertising has none. Name a print ad you remember (“Lemon”). Name a radio ad (“I’m Tom Shane of the Shane Company”). Name a TV ad (“Apply directly to the forehead!”). Name an online ad…

Ironically, the best “online” ads are the ones made by TV companies. Netflix does a great job with House of Cards and Stranger Things, for instance. But in those instances, powerful storytelling applies TV principles to a glorified TV screen.

Where are the great online ads? Where are the best and most memorable Instagram ads? The best banner ads?

We’ve traded what makes good advertising and what involves the customer for targeting and tracking that was supposed to make people buy our crap just because we told them to.

It hasn’t worked. We need better ads for an online world. One that blends great storytelling with stunning visuals and maybe a dash of humor. The world needs more creativity in what we do online. And in a sick twist, we know being clever rarely works in advertising. There’s a difference between being clever and being creative.

Your newsletter is the same stale junk. Your Facebook stream is just a bunch of photos of you using your product. Your emails are all slick pieces that look on-brand but don’t involve the customer.

We have to be more creative. At the very least, ask for a reply back on an email. Ask people a specific question or offer a survey. Or sit down with a team of people and ask what would get your second cousin excited about your work. When you can begin to answer that, you can begin to formulate creative ideas that involve them and not just you.

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Photo of Justin Harter


Justin has been around the Internet long enough to remember when people started saying “content is king”.

He has worked for some of Indiana’s largest companies, state government, taught college-level courses, and about 1.1M people see his work every year.

You’ll probably see him around Indianapolis on a bicycle.

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