A monkey covers his own mouth to depict regrettable interrupt advertising communications.
Marketing Content Strategy

What Interrupt Advertising Does: Marketing Lessons From a Recovering Loud Mouth

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I have a new friend who won’t let me talk over him.

To be clear, I don’t want to talk over him, but I’ve found that occasionally, we’re both speaking at once. An awkward experience, indeed. But even more awkward is the realization that I’ve interrupted him, and he wants to finish his thought.

Above all, though, I’m most struck by the irony: I’m the number one vocal advocate for the death of interrupt advertising. No one pushes for the downfall of intrusive ads like I do, and here I am, realizing I’m no better than a noisy pop-up that won’t close.

Here’s how I got myself into this predicament.

A natural evangelist, I’m enthusiastic to a fault. If someone is describing their first experience with an awesome new product, I’ll jump in and finish their thoughts out of exuberant agreement. If a fellow parent describes the conflicting feelings of a growing family, I can’t help but commiserate aloud before she’s even gotten to her point. Worst of all is when I see a buddy searching for a word. Watch out, friend, because words are my strength, and I’m here to help.

The only thing is . . . sometimes it’s best not to “help.”

Recently, I realized I interrupt people out of enthusiastic agreement. Here's how my lessons learned can help marketing teams reroute an outdated interrupt advertising approach.

Image attribution: University of Seville

So. My new buddy’s refusal to pipe down when I interrupt has illuminated the fact I’m a bit of a (sorry, self) loudmouth. While at first the lesson discouraged me, in time the new perspective gave me an odd sort of compassion for enterprises trying to reroute their own ad spend to stop interrupting audiences. And without getting too mindbendingly meta, here’s what marketers can learn from a recovering motormouth.

An Open Apology

First, I’m sorry, everyone. I promise I didn’t mean to interject.

While my motives are pure, it’s an egocentric thing to do. In fact, there’s a whole psychological science devoted to the effects of being interrupted.

Communication catalyst Marion Grobb Finkelstein says being on the receiving end of an interruption can feel frustrating, maddening, and even discouraging. “The end result? Your relationship suffers,” she writes. “You feel a great sense of disconnect toward this person, perhaps even anger and resentment.”

If that sounds rough, remember, she’s talking about the effects of being interrupted by a colleague here, a buddy. Not a brand. In a time when trust in businesses is already in an awkward state of shrinkage, you can safely draw the conclusion that an interruption from a for-profit enterprise brand evokes an even less favorable response. Here’s why.

Cognitive Load Theory

An influx of input stimuli piles onto a person’s cognitive load, according to management and leadership trainers at MindTools. The working memory can only hold so much information at once, and too much sensory input can lead to your target’s overwhelm, confusion, and even avoidance. And as noted in Advertising and Branding: Concepts, Methodologies, Tools, and Applications, if a brand is the source of the increased cognitive load, then consumers’ attitudes toward the brand can take a quick downturn, rarely to recover.

Recently, I realized I interrupt people out of enthusiastic agreement. Here's how my lessons learned can help marketing teams reroute an outdated interrupt advertising approach.

Image attribution: Courtney Carmody

In Games User Research: A Case Study Approach, edited by Dr. Miguel Angel Garcia-Ruiz, video gamers are invited to describe how they feel when faced with an interrupt marketing message mid-game. Listen to how one video gamer describes his experience: “The advertising makes me angry. Sometimes when I lose in the game I just want to try again faster, but I find advertising, and this somehow makes me angry.” The participant is being honest, even though he can’t explain why he feels angst when targeted by intrusive ads. The same gamer goes on to say that to cope, he does his best to ignore the advertising.

Another participant says, “. . . an ad pops up every time, and I hate it, because I have to press the X to close it, and sometimes I can’t press it and I press the ad. It is irritating.” And perhaps most eye-opening of all gamer contributions, “I do not like advertisements in games because they can change your mood completely when playing . . .” a sentiment that should hit like a gut punch to any brand tempted to wedge in between someone and the activities they love.

Learning to Listen

Since my revelation, I’ve gotten over the embarrassment and learned a thing or two.

Recently, I realized I interrupt people out of enthusiastic agreement. Here's how my lessons learned can help marketing teams reroute an outdated interrupt advertising approach.

Image attribution: evanrudemi

And since my lessons apply directly to empathetic marketers, I’m sharing them with you.

  • Forgive. It’s easier to neutralize guilt if no one intended harm to begin with. In other words, if the interjecting party interrupted out of enthusiasm and a sincere desire to help, it’s easier to shake off the offense. Even if your company was the one designing the noisy pop-up. So start by forgiving yourself and your team.
  • Don’t forget. If you’re the visionary one at work, advocating for a quality brand storytelling message to replace interrupt advertising, then remember: The people on your team who resist the change aren’t doing it to anger audiences. They simply believe interrupting is the best way. I hope I’ll never forget the feeling of realizing what I’d done by finishing a friend’s sentence. While other marketers feel the need to drum up empathy toward an audience, I—a recovering big mouth—now have it naturally.
  • Study exemplary listeners. Please don’t pretend the shift from interrupt advertising to a more inbound version of marketing is a small thing. Making the move is a fundamental decision. Give it the gravity it deserves. While the U-turn doesn’t necessarily require a public apology, it’s smart to draw inspiration from successful brands that have rerouted before—and emerged stronger for it.
  • Learn to listen. Who benefits most when someone learns to listen? It’s not the speaker. Instead, I’ve found the listening party is the one who profits most. It’s not that hard to listen, but most brands don’t do it well. According to the Geek Gap co-author Minda Zetlin, the law of supply and demand applies to the give and take of listening. “By listening rather than talking, you are giving something valuable to the person who’s speaking,” she writes. “He or she will feel understood and validated. It’s a powerful relationship-building tool, and an especially powerful sales tool.”
  • Know you’ll be interrupted. When you’ve committed to listening more, you’ll realize how many times a day you’re now interrupted by others. It may seem unfair, draining, frustrating, or worse. Channel those feelings into more compassion for your readership, and let it strengthen your resolve to change your brand’s communication style moving forward.
  • Go to interruptors anonymous. I won’t suggest you need a twelve-step program to break free of your selfish habit, but I know you’ll get discouraged if you’re the only one listening in a room full of loudmouths. Get into a content marketing forum full of curious listeners. Subscribe to publications dedicated to quality brand storytelling like the Content Standard for a steady stream of reminders when tempted to rely on old habits.

I can’t wait to be a better friend in the future. Enthusiasm is not a crime, but I’m so glad to learn there’s a more productive way to channel my energy. When life is made up of relationships, I’ll take every lesson I can get.

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Featured image attribution: Eric Kilby

Bethany Johnson is a multiple award-winning content marketing writer and speaker. Her work empowers marketers to ditch interrupt advertising in favor of original content that converts passive readers into active followers. Thriving brands like Tom's of Maine, MasterCard, ADP, Fidelity and Philips currently rely on Bethany's fresh style to connect with audiences daily. As a consultant, she combines simple change management principles with her insider knowledge of freelancing to show traditional marketing teams how to flourish in today's wild gig economy. For more, visit bethanyjohnson.com.

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