Do you agree with Mad Ave's 16-car pileup?
Clutter's not the only issue -- things like media multitasking and ad-skipping devices play roles. But it is the elephant in the room. Or maybe a more apt metaphor is a 16-car pileup that Madison Avenue's perfectly happy to rubberneck: pause just enough to recognise its existence without doing anything to fix it.
"We could discuss any topic in media and there would some room for debate," said Debbie Solomon, group research director at WPP Group's MindShare, and the author of the agency's annual study on increased commercial time in TV. "But not with clutter. Every study I've ever seen shows that it's a bad thing."
So if clutter's such a problem, why isn't there a clear, unified way of figuring out how to reduce it? A big reason is that clutter is usually viewed through the lenses of individual media, a way of looking that makes a bit of sense given that clutter affects each medium differently.
Research shows that a magazine reader looks at glossy ad pages rather favorably, as part of the editorial content, while a TV viewer is more likely to see 30-second spots as interruptions. Between those poles of acceptance and revulsion fall internet users, who are simultaneously hit with both scads of generic, untargeted ads and more finely tuned pitches that take into account behavior that gives some semblance of relevance to advertising.
Refocus on consumer, not media
A siloed way of thinking is fine if you're atop a media company or a trade association, but it falls short if managing a massive marketing budget is your bag. That lens effectively needs to be refocused not on media but on the consumer, who's cumulatively bludgeoned by commercial messages as he moves from medium to medium. "We just don't have a holistic approach yet," Mr. Barocci said.
Asked whether a more consumer-centric approach to clutter is needed, Bob Liodice, president-CEO at the Association of National Advertisers, said such an initiative "would have to be like what's going on with engagement," referring to a joint effort by his organization, the 4A's and the ARF to develop a new standard for measuring ad effectiveness. "That's something that seems to have universal support and intrigue. Ad clutter hasn't yet risen to that level. I don't want to dismiss it, though. The consumer is running away from some advertising."
Kate Sirkin, exec VP-global research director at Publicis Groupe's Starcom, said she's not counting on action from media companies, for whom clutter raises complicated questions of economics. "Media companies and associations won't look at it because they don't think in a multimedia way," she said. "It'll be up to advertisers to deal with."