5 of 12 Causes of Advertising Failure: Improper Use of Passive Media


Originally published 10-21-2015. Information updated 02-01-2021. 

Welcome back to our 12-part series on causes of advertising failure. If you’ve been following this insightful sequence, you’ve learned about advertising failures 1-4: the desire for instant gratification, big reach, small budget, business owner knows best, and the use of unsubstantiated claims. In this article we’re uncovering failure number five: improper use of passive media.

Passive vs. Intrusive Media

So, what is passive media? Sight-based media such as newspapers, magazines, billboards, websites, and direct mail are considered passive, or non-intrusive media. They get this title because they require the consumer to sustain focused attention on things like illustrations or compelling content in order to process the message. Intrusive media, on the other hand, is sound-based (such as radio and television) and because of its more invasive nature, sound-based is heads above sight-based in its ability to get your message lodged into your customer's’ mind. Because of this, passive media is best used as a follow-up to intrusive media.

When (and When Not) to Use Passive Media

It’s important to mention that when advertising, you can and should include both passive and intrusive advertising techniques, you just need to understand when. First, tell them why with intrusive media, then wait for when, with passive. Because passive media requires more focused attention, it’s an effective way to reach consumers who are actively in the market for your product or service right now. But because of this, passive media can be ineffective at reaching prospects prior to their need, which means it is extremely difficult for passive media to create a predisposition toward your company. With patience, intrusive media will win over customers before they are in the market for your product or service.

Generally speaking, broadcast media ads are considered intrusive advertising. Even when someone is involved in another activity, they can grab their attention through the use of sound and emotional appeal. With that, intrusive media, is best used to introduce a potential customer to your brand. It actively seeks out those prospective clients and makes them aware of your product or service. Without intrusive media, consumers may never know of your brand's existence.

Passive and Intrusive Media Working Together

It’s best to look at passive and intrusive media as your dynamic advertising team. Intrusive media, when properly placed, makes consumers aware of your business, and then passive media swoops in as either a follow-up partner, or a target for intrusive advertising. Most often, it’s both. Even on a local level, small businesses are taking advantage of websites as a passive, but interactive medium to reach clients. Coupled with intrusive, strategically placed ads, websites can give further information to potential customers. The customer can click on your website from the more intrusive pay-per-click ad to contact you and/or learn more about your product or services.

Print media such as newspaper ads are an extremely passive form of advertising. People don’t often consult newspaper ads unless they are looking for something specific. Not only that, competitors are often advertising in similar sections. Without using intrusive media as a compliment, this type of advertising is virtually useless in today’s world. Prior use of intrusive media will assist in getting the reader’s attention when they consult newspaper ads. The proper use and combination of the two makes the difference between a customer choosing to do business with you or your competitors.

When it comes to advertising, there is no winner in the contest of passive versus intrusive advertising; rather, the two work best when coupled together. Having said that, as a business owner, puts yourself in the mind of the buyer during their decision making process (AKA the buying funnel). It’s important to remember that 98% of people don’t convert, leaving a mere 2% of people that are ready to buy at any given time — no matter what type of business you’re in. That's why the best advertising does include branding mixed with action. So if you're spending lots of dollars on radio or TV to brand yourself it would make sense to add in action to these schedules as opposed to being in five different types of media that you never truly dominate.

Intrusive media can be used to draw customers to passive ads that contain further information. While intrusive advertising can be, well… intrusive, it serves the purpose of drawing the attention of potential clients to your brand. When properly placed, it can be a valuable companion to passive advertising in bringing greater awareness and sales to your brand.

Next Monday, check out our sixth post in this series of advertising failures: Creating Ads Instead of Campaigns.

The 12 Causes of Advertising Failure courtesy of Roy H. Williams , author of The Wizard of Ads & Secret Formulas of the Wizard of Ads.


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