The ‘Age of Aversion’ Dawns

CANNES, FRANCE Industry professionals gathered here to celebrate advertising creativity received a sobering message today: One in three consumers in the most attractive demographic is not only ignoring commercial messages, he or she actively avoids them.

Joint research presented by Microsoft and Starcom MediaVest revealed that one-third of 17-35-year-olds take active steps—such as using TiVo, installing pop-up blockers or subscribing to satellite radio—in order to avoid ad messages.

“They’re the problem children of the marketing world,” said Kate Sirkin, global research director at Starcom MediaVest.

Stephen Kim, director of media research at Microsoft, warned this antipathy to advertising delivered in conventional ways is more than a passing life phase. Unless marketers adapt their targeting and creative techniques, they will usher in an “age of aversion.”

“They’re going to be the moms and dads of the future,” he said.

To get themselves back in good stead with an audience that considers ads irrelevant, Kim recommends that marketers use technology to improve their message, using the example of a campaign Microsoft subsidiary Massive ran for Warner Bros. that promoted its V for Vendetta movie within video games. Since the movie posters in urban scenery made the game feel more realistic, gamers told researchers they welcomed the messages.

“The history of our industry is based on interrupt and repeat,” Kim said. Instead, he urged advertisers to try gentler approaches, like permission e-mail, telescoped DVR ads and interactive kiosks.

Ad avoiders are well aware their time is valuable. With easy technology tools to tune out commercial messages, they can demand something in return for their attention. A Sony Ericsson campaign gave back by using MSN Messenger to send users new club and concert information.

Ad avoiders are more likely to respond to such creative ways of speaking to them, Kim said. “The problem is most of what they see today isn’t relevant or entertaining,” he said. “That’s a problem for our industry.”