Are there too many ads?

Maybe it’s time to rethink your approach to advertising

How do you like your coffee? If you like it with cream and sugar, and I gave it to you black, you might be disappointed. If I put one cream and one sugar in, that might be perfect for you. If so, let’s say I put in two creams and two sugars. You might drink it, but you probably wouldn’t enjoy it.

Suppose I put in three creams and three sugars, or maybe four or five of each. At some point, you’re going to refuse to drink that coffee. Where do we draw the line?

When I was a kid, half-hour TV programs had 25 minutes or more of content and a few minutes of advertising. I can’t say that we could ever blindly believe “3 out of 4 doctors recommend,” but for the most part, it was informative. We even used to look forward to some commercials.

Over the years there has been an explosion in advertising. Some shows feature three minutes of programming and seven minutes of commercials! Some shows even have advertising on part of the screen during the program. Just like the cream and sugar, no matter how much you like it, at some point there’s too much.

Some gas stations have screens on the pumps that play commercials while you’re filling your tank. If you say anything to the attendant, the answer often is, “Everybody complains
about those.” Really? Doesn’t sound to me like that would be good for business.

Many stores feature screens with advertising while we wait in checkout lines. Very few people like to wait in line. The longer we wait, the more annoyed we become. The next time you’re in line, turn around and look at the people behind you. Do any of
them look happy to be there? Why would any business want to annoy us even more than is absolutely necessary?

In addition to too much advertising, an awful lot of it sells dubious products and services. Some are outright scams. Whether you “Call this number,” “Click on this link,” or even answer your phone, you could be sorry you did. Have you noticed that an increasing number of scammers are posing as legitimate businesses or government agencies?

Unfortunately, our government either can’t or won’t protect us from this malaise, which is ruining their best efforts and those of the most legitimate businesses. Get your identity stolen just once, and you’ll have trouble ever trusting anybody again.

Advertising is expensive. It loses its effectiveness when there is too much and when there are too many scammers. I’m amazed the media don’t limit and screen their advertisers better. The legal disclaimers may shield them from liability, but nothing will protect them from their collective loss of credibility.

Of course, businesses can’t afford to stop advertising if they want to stay in business. They have to get the word out somehow. Ralph Waldo Emerson was a genius, but the modernized version of his adage, “Build a better mousetrap, and the world will beat a path to your door,” doesn’t work in our day and age.

We have to let people know about the better mousetrap — a much more difficult task when many such messages may include traps for us.

Advertising rates are determined by readership and viewership. The more readers or viewers you can attract, the more you can charge. Wouldn’t it make sense to publish fewer ads and even verify their veracity before accepting them? Yes, the costs will increase, but so will the revenue.

This could be the new, new thing in broadcasting and publishing. It could do to these industries what the iPhone did to the smartphone industry.

But someone has to be first to break the tradition. If those overly creamy and sugary cups of coffee just aren’t selling like they used to, it just might be time to go back to just one of each.

Ronald J. Bourque, a consultant and speaker from Windham, has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871 or

Categories: Business Advice, Marketing & Advertising