PR must disrupt, but with a message worth hearing

I love good advertising. So the bone I have to pick today has nothing to do with advertising. It has to do with disruption.

I love good advertising. I love the artistry of it. The simplicity and elegance. The (apparent) ease of communicating a clear message.

So the bone I have to pick today has nothing to do with advertising. It has to do with disruption.

Disruption is a good thing in marketing. We talk about it all the time. We tell our clients that we have to disrupt to get people's attention, to break through. Got it. All for it.

But then I walked into the ladies room at O'Hare International Airport, bleary eyed at 5:15 am, looked in the mirror, and saw an ad staring back at me. A full screen – er, mirror – ad that then moved around, shrunk a bit but was still there. Staring at me while I was looking in the mirror. Maybe it was because it was early, but I thought this was insane.

The company behind this innovation is called Mirrus, and I expect they have a goldmine on their hands. But I don't get it.

Do people really want to see advertising in the mirror in the ladies room? Is that disruption or just unwanted interruption? Ads are coating literally every surface we come in contact with these days. You can't pump gas without having to watch commercials.

Aren't we past the point where this stuff is just a blur?

What's the learning for PR people? Let's make sure when we disrupt, it's with messages of interest, education, delight, entertainment, emotion – messages of value that people will want to see, share, and engage. That should be our goal and we shouldn't settle for less. And frankly it should be easier for us than for traditional ad folk, because we've always had to – literally – earn people's interest.

That's a lesson worth relearning as we expand our scope to all forms of media, trying to reach people who walk around bleary eyed not because of getting up at 3:30 am but because they've tuned out, sick of being bombarded by marketing messages they don't want to see or hear.

Ellen Ryan Mardiks is vice chairman at GolinHarris and president of its consumer marketing practice.

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