Consumers Becoming Marketing-Resistant

Are consumers reaching the marketing saturation point? Could be, according to findings from Yankelovich Partners, Inc. that reveal a growing resistance and negativity toward advertising. The firm’s study indicates 65 percent feel constantly bombarded with too many marketing messages, and 61 percent feel the volume is out of control.

What’s worse is that 60 percent of consumers have a much more negative opinion of marketing and advertising than they did a few years ago, and 69 percent are interested in mechanisms that skip or block advertising completely.

These findings come from telephone surveys with 601 individuals during February 2004, and when Yankelovich compared the results to a similar 1964 study conducted by the American Association of Advertising Agencies, the firm found a worsening attitude toward marketing. Yankelovich Partners note that while a direct comparison between these studies is nearly impossible, the growth of negativity is clear.

Advertising/Marketing Opinions — Then and Now
1964 AAAA Study

View of Advertising
. 2004 Yankelovich Study

Views of Marketing
Favorable 41% . Wholly positive 28%
Unfavorable 14% . Wholly negative 36%
Mixed 34% . Neutral/mixed 36%

The Yankelovich Partners’ 2004 study revealed further disenchantment that consumers had toward advertising messages, and some proposed extreme solutions. One-third reported that they would slightly lower their standard of living to live in a society without marketing or advertising; 41 percent would pay for traditionally free media (network TV or radio); and 28 percent would pay significantly more for magazines to avoid advertising saturation.

Furthermore, more then six-in-ten respondents feel that marketers and advertisers don’t treat customers with respect; 59 percent feel that most marketing and advertising has little relevance to them; and 65 percent think that there should be more limits and regulations on marketing and advertising.

These survey findings could be discouraging news for marketers but J. Walker Smith, president, Yankelovich Partners, Inc. suggests more precise target marketing would help to combat consumer negativity and resistance.

“There are lots of ideas rolled up in the notion of more precise targeting — a lifestyle focus, addressable media, putting consumers in control (so that they can pick), etc. The challenge is that the marketers today are content to live with imprecision, not realizing the impact this has on fueling marketing resistance and thus reducing overall marketing productivity,” says Smith.

Since every consumer represents dozens of targeted marketing opportunities there is still a strong possibility for inundation, but Smith explains that proper targeting would create an overall reduction in ads per consumer.

“The issue now is that people are the target of lots of marketing that is mis-directed. While there are lots of marketers who legitimately would target someone, if all of the incorrectly targeted marketing ceases then I suspect people would get less. Irrespective of less, it would at least be appropriate and thus of interest. The specific thing we’re saying here is that poor targeting sweeps up lots of people who shouldn’t be getting that marketing and when they do get it, it’s just clutter. More and more clutter, not to mention intrusive clutter, has created this growing problem of marketing resistance,” comments Smith.

Marketers are beginning to recognize consumer resistance, adapting messages to fit a restless audience. Burger King most recently used an offbeat, interactive Web site,, to entice a younger demographic without overtly advertising to them. But Smith doesn’t foresee more offbeat ads. “Disenchanted consumers will respond to an idea that resonates. Oddity per se is not the answer,” Smith notes.

“…I do predict a blurring of the lines between entertainment and marketing. Entertainment — movies, TV, music — will more aggressively use and feature brands. Brands will use entertainment to make an emotional and experiential connection with consumers. This probably does mean more offbeat ads since entertainment has traditionally had a more offbeat sensibility than marketing. But I don’t think the primary driver will be a desire to be offbeat,” says Smith.

He continues, “Ad campaigns that rely solely on shock value soon lose power because the shock value wears off. And while the next round of ads can go to the next extreme, sooner or later limits are reached. The most powerful ads in the future will be clearly rooted in a powerful idea, not in something offbeat.”

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