Wake Up and See the Objection

The obnoxious, blabbing commercial playback device at BP fuel stations

So some crack marketing genius somewhere gets the idea: Let’s stick audio playback devices on the fuel pumps so as soon as the customer — who chose our fuel station over the ones on the other three corners of the intersection — starts fueling we pummel them with commercials to entice them to come inside and spend more money with us.

It may sound brilliant on the surface. He probably got a big promotion. It may have even appeared to work at first. Inside sales may have risen. I wouldn’t know. Perhaps some customers are reminded they need a gallon of milk and will go ahead and go inside to buy it there instead of hitting the grocery or corner convenience store.

But the plan is flawed. First, it isn’t executed very well. The audio is annoying — no doubt designed to cut through traffic on a busy intersection. But more importantly it ignores the fact that customers don’t want to be involuntarily assaulted with advertising, least of all when they are stressed on their way to or from work, or hurried to get the kids from school, whatever. As a friend of mine writes about regularly, this sort of intrusive marketing is old school. Its effectiveness is waning fast, and organizations that continue on with it are more than ever perceived to be eroding trust and alienating potential customers.

Okay, let’s give them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it sounded like a good idea at the time. But where is the follow up? Who really is looking at all of the factors to see if it’s working, and who has the judgement to weigh the various factors? Dollars is one measure, but it’s not strategic. It doesn’t tell you what is happening with your brand. Perception.

Here is a clue: have the machine count how many customers take the extra action to hit the mute button to silence the message. What does this mean? Here is the next clue: when so many people are hitting the mute button that the plastic covering over it has worn off then it probably means you are bothering your customers. Further, when so many people have hit it that the plastic has worn off, AND the button has stopped functioning you have a bigger clue, not to mention customers who are even more annoyed that they cannot shut the stupid thing up.

Every single one of these at the station I normally use has completely failed — their buttons no longer mute the audio.

Maybe when you have to keep replacing these units due to failed mute buttons you wake up and smell the objection. Or, do you just think, “we need a better mute button?”

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