The Problem With Local Online Advertising — It’s Ugly

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Patrick Kitano is a guest author. If you’d like to submit a guest post, click here.

Advertising can really be an eyesore. Sao Paulo, Brazil, the world’s 7th largest city with a population of over 12 million, decided in 2006 to create areas without billboards, and according to Good Cities, the masses are very happy without the “visual pollution.”

Billboards notwithstanding, a lot of local advertising, generally — including TV and radio commercials, newspaper ads, Google AdWords, and particularly online banner ads — can elicit the same kind of consumer aversion. The budgets behind local campaigns are often too small to produce the kind of quality creative that consumers expect from national advertisers, resulting in bland or visually unappealing ads that consumers prefer to avoid.

This perception of the commercial as propaganda and visual pollution has opened doors in recent years to new online advertising vehicles (like daily deals, check-ins, and review sites like Yelp) that don’t ruin the view, so to speak. Merchants understand that they can draw in customers with financial incentives or social buzz — and without annoying banner ads or pop-ups.

From the Good Cities article:

“Companies had to find their own ways to promote products and brands on the streets,” Lalai Luna, co-founder of ad agency Remix, told the Financial Times last year. “São Paulo started having a lot more guerilla marketing [unconventional strategies, such as public stunts and viral campaigns] and it gave a lot of power to online and social media campaigns as a new way to interact with people.”

Sao Paulo’s citizens probably couldn’t have predicted how much lovelier their city could be without billboards — or the many other innovative ways that merchants would figure out how to reach local consumers once the billboards were removed.

It’s only a matter of time before it becomes obvious to local merchants that bombarding residents with “visual pollution” in the form of banner ads on hyperlocal sites is on the way out. An over-reliance on banner ads is a big reason why’s revenues underperform. Rather, it would be  better for hyperlocal media to start acting as facilitators for delivering social media marketing campaigns to the local business community — acting more like social media marketing agencies.

Patrick Kitano is founding Principal of Brand into Media, a strategy group for social brand management solutions, and administrator of the Breaking News Network, a national hyperlocal network devoted to community service. He is the author of Media Transparent, and contributor to Social Media Today, Daily Deal Media, and The Customer Collective.