Creating Engaging Environments | Outbrain Blog


I don’t want your menus

| David Sasson

I was looking for a quick lunch near our Outbrain office in Union Square this afternoon, where two different marketing approaches were on stark display. People were streaming down Park Ave. and a disheveled, tired old man was standing in front of a pizzeria shoving menus in everyone’s face and shouting “free soda with two slices, free soda with two slices!”. We all parted like a river around a rock  to avoid him. He did sneak a menu into the hands of a few of us, but when I looked into the pizzeria, it was dark and bare with only a person or two silently munching away in isolation. They didn’t seem to be enjoying the free soda.

Less than a block further on, there was another interruption in the pedestrian flow. This time, however, it was because a line was snaking out the door and overflowing into the street from a small falafel shop called “Maoz”.

Of course I immediately thought: this is classic top-down broadcast advertising versus engagement marketing (really, who wouldn’t have thought that??). On the one hand, you’ve got a store pushing their message in the face of people who clearly aren’t interested, trying to make up for a lack of buyers by discounting their product and simply being louder. And it wasn’t working, people were tripping over each other to avoid him, dodging as quickly as you or I move our eyes away from banner ads to the content we actually care about on the web. I myself even had to hand the menu back the poor schmo and tell him ‘No Thanks’, which is what I do by clicking the X button on interstitial ads all day long. Getting in people’s faces doesn’t engage them with your brand – it’s a turn off. One look in the pizzeria would tell you that.

Meanwhile, down the street, what was Maoz doing right? Well for one, they have a differentiated product (falafel) which clearly helps sell itself more easily than a commodity (pizza in NYC). But beyond that, the decor is inviting, cheerful greens and glass paneling that make it bright and cheery. It’s easy to tell it’s a serve-yourself place where you simply take what you want to eat and don’t get stuff you *don’t* want packaged in (free soda anyone? please??).  In sum, it was a brand that had made itself a desirable destination…..people were coming to it, so it didn’t have to come to them.

There is a lesson in this for online marketers:

You need to provide people with a destination so they have reason to come to you. In the digital space, top down broadcast advertising is exceedingly difficult to pull off successfully. It’s usually perceived as annoying, even more so as the medium moves faster and faster toward personalization (my facebook stream, my selected apps, my start page). If someone does not invite you onto their screen, your message just doesn’t have juice.

Good agencies and brand marketers are figuring this out and developing new ways to create destinations that can attract and build interested audiences. Facebook fan pages and twitter updates with really useful information are one avenue, giving bloggers something to talk about in a new way that touches on your brand is another. Or creating really compelling editorial content that is adjacent to your brand (not *about* your brand for heaven’s sake…..that will flop) with brand marketing/sponsorship in the periphery. All of these tactics are useful ways to move marketing from a push model to a pull model, and all succeed or fail based on whether they can provide something of interest to people, whose attention span is fleeting.

So to all of us in the space, let’s keep working with good differentiated products while creating engaging environments that will have people coming to us. No one wants to have to hire that crusty old man with the menus.

You can find more of David’s musings on his blog.

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David Sasson

David Sasson is the Chief Operating Officer at Outbrain. Prior to joining Outbrain, David was COO of Quigo Technologies, Inc.... Read more

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