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Ads, ads, they’re everywhere

They’re coming to mobile devices and street signs near you.

I was walking to my bus the other day and I saw the most curious ad just below the stop sign. “Brought to you by” When my bus pulled up, all wrapped in an ad for Bud Light, I inserted my bus card, which had a tiny ad for All Right Parking on it, into the card reader. Instead of making the usual beep sound, the reader played an ad for Starbucks and shot out a coupon for latté with my card. I sat down on the Nike Air seat and thumbed through Wired magazine as we passed hundreds of cars wrapped in ads for Metro Transit on our way to the Matercard Freeway. As we passed by the Target Center on my way to work in the Pillsbury Center, I viewed an ad for the Minnesota Lottery on its Jumbotron messageboard. Just before dropping us off at the bus shelter promoting Mercedes Benz, we passed several construction vehicles that displayed ads for space in the building under construction.

Sound far fetched? Hardly. Much of the above is an actual experience I had. I just added a few ads for comic effect, but it may be hard for the reader to tell which are real and which fictitious. While we do not have all of these advertising forms yet, they may be coming, given current trends to capture our eyeballs wherever we look.

Two trends I have noticed of late in the advertising industry: advertisers want to target their ads at a qualified audience and, excepting that, they’ll take all the eyeballs they can get. Studies have shown that the former strategy is effective while the latter just annoys the audience to the point of creating negative branding. No matter. Companies will continue to increase their marketing budgets as long as there are new places on which to plaster their branding messages.

The next new space will be WAP phones and other mobile devices. It wasn’t long ago that DoubleClick and OmniSky tested a service that would deliver ads to wireless Web users. The stories underscore the reality that millions of eyeballs view the diminutive handset screens–eyeballs that could translate into billions of ad dollars.

My question is: when will we feel so saturated that we start backlashing against advertising? I have developed an aversion to radio ads, for example. I have zero tolerance for them, to the point where I will only listen to public radio. I suspect several other ad forms will similarly get under my skin eventually, to the point where all my entertainment is CD-based and all my reading is book-based (at least until they start putting commercials on CDs, as they do on home videos and DVDs). And I’m not alone. Will ads on mobile phones push more users over the edge, resulting in fewer willing eyeballs in all media? I don’t have the answer, but we are reaching ad saturation–our tolerance has limits.

Oh, and please click through the ad to the left of my face before leaving the site. We couldn’t do all this content without the support of our advertisers.

James Mathewson is editorial director of Also read his monthly Insights column in ComputerUser magazine.

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