Interruption Marketing: Rumors of its Death have been Greatly Exaggerated

2 minutes

This is a guest post by Neil Davidson

Walking round Times Square last week, its 23-story billboards reminded me of the extravagant uselessness of peacock tails. It’s an advertising arms race for our attention, locked in an ever-escalating stalemate of mutually assured distraction. Despite passing through it three times, I can remember only one advertisement:

gotta go

Sure, this advert is big, but it’s not its size that’s impressive. It’s how it’s different that stands out. Charmin have spotted that the 150,000 “eyeballs” that pass through Times Square each day aren’t worth squat, but that 150,000 daily butts are. It’s a demonstration of how advertising matters and how, even in the clutter of Times Square, it’s possible to stand out. Not by being bigger, or brasher or brighter, not by sticking to the measures that your competitors define, but by being different, by choosing a different axis to be judged on, by redefining the rules.

As Seth Godin says, you should create purple cows: products that are remarkable. Products that people want to talk about. But no matter how hard you try, your cow doesn’t always end up purple. Sometimes you’re stuck with a product that is merely good, or a product that people simply don’t want to talk about. Like hemorrhoid treatment. What do you do then?

Napoleon and his piles

You create a remarkable advert, and you interrupt as many people as you possibly can:

No facts, statistics, details or testimonials here, just a great story that makes you smile.

Interrupt people when they want to be interrupted. Here’s the nozzle at a gas pump in the UK. At the time I saw this, gas in the UK cost the equivalent of $9 / gallon. That’s $200 for a full tank. This advert succeeds because it’s an unexpected, witty and welcome interruption.

Create adverts that tell stories. Here’s an advert, part of a series, for Air New Zealand that I saw in San Francisco:

This tells a story in two frames. It states the beginning and an end but leaves the middle up to us. What exactly happened to that woman in New Zealand? Who did she meet, what did she drink, where did she go? You could squeeze a whole movie in between those two frames.

Depart a Californian, return a Kiwi

The new conventional wisdom states that interruption marketing is dead. We’re so bombarded by billboards, t-shirts, pop-ups, television and magazines that we’ve developed an immunity to advertisers’ messages. There’s no point even trying to interrupt us. You’re just wasting your money.

I disagree. It’s hard to interrupt us, but it can be done. Not by being loud, but by being different. Be witty, tell a story, and tell it to us when we want to be interrupted, and you can leap out from the clutter.

Neil Davidson is co-founder and joint CEO of Red Gate Software. His blog is at or you can follow him on twitter

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