This post is not about outer space, but it starts there.

I recently found myself on reading about a proposed Mars Mission called “Red Dragon” (and wondering what sick Hannibal Lecter fan at NASA proposed that name) when I finally saw evidence of life on the Red Planet.


Don’t worry about the craters–just fill them in with the donuts.

The article began with an artist’s conception of SpaceX’s Dragon capsule landing on Mars, and then a little popup ad from Dunkin’ Donuts rose from the rusty and dusty landscape to show a stick figure pushing an oversized grocery cart across the Martian landscape. So in addition to life, you can now find K-Cups and maybe a CostCo on Mars. Why are we looking at weird shapes in rocks if there is so much evidence of civilization?

Better get that Dragon lander up and running, Elon Musk—I gots me some shoppin’ to do!

In all seriousness, at moments like these I feel some shame at being a digital marketer.  (As if being personally responsible for more than a billion marketing emails in my career hasn’t already done it.)

I have a split personality when it comes to consuming digital. The digital marketer in me says, “Clever. Well designed. Well executed.” Maybe even a “Neato” (because I’m an old digital marketer).  But the digital consumer in me says, “Get the f*** out of my way, will ya?”

NY Times Page Takeover

Nothing like subtlety…

I’m resigned to the fact that 99% of my emails are pure, unadulterated junk. Given the aforementioned email counts for which I’m personally responsible, a part of me accepts it as karma. But I still hate it when advertisers get all up in my face with their non-sensical messaging through intrusive means.

Page takeovers. Interstitials. Road blocking. Little stick figures running across the Martian landscape.

It all seems just so desperate.

This is why as an old digital marketer, I still believe that digital strategy needs to begin with search.  Yes, it’s getting harder and harder to optimize for organic search, and costlier and costlier for paid search, but how can advertisers not understand that someone who comes to you through search is more engaged, a priori, than someone whom you’ve flagged down by waving your hands in the air in ways they just don’t care about.

Even retargeted advertising seems desperate to me most of the time.  It used to have the promise of re-engaging users who have already visited your site or opened your email.  Now it’s like a club hitting me over the head. “Yeah, I remember, I was on your site learning what I needed to know, and now you’ve cookied me and you’re annoying me while I’m on to check my usage of ‘a priori.’” Men’s clothing site Bonobos once ran a retargeting campaign that didn’t hide anything, saying “Seriously, we know you’re curious.” The effect seems exponentially sillier when I do so much research on digital marketing solutions, because even digital marketing solution providers hit me over the head with retargeting. “Yeah, I get it, you’re retargeting your digital marketing solutions to a digital marketer. Your target customer knows what you’re doing, and you’ve just entered the Annoying Zone.”

This upswell of annoying, invasive advertising is another reason why social and content marketing hold so much promise, because they can engage consumers with more authentic messaging. Millennials and Gen Z-ers are especially attuned to when they are being sold to, and studies show they want a different relationship with how they relate to brands. However, so much content marketing takes the form of obvious shilling that it’s embarrassing too.

Space Invaders

They may look pixelly, but at least those pixels aren’t tracking you.

But I don’t think this is a millennials-only issue. (I hereby proclaim a small sample size of one non-millennial as proof.) The best advertising doesn’t look like advertising at all. It engages you by making you feel or think, not by making you feel or think you’re being sold to. If all you’re doing is shilling, you may only get a few shillings out of it.

This post was not about outer space invaders, but inner space invaders. Beware, and above all, don’t encourage them by clicking on them.