Getting attention is getting harder. The Web is a place where busy people do things. Help them, don’t disrupt them. 

For weeks Disney stalked me. On webpage after webpage I visited I got this horrendous ad for Disney resorts. It was in bright colors and swirled constantly. It literally hurt my eyes. It helped me develop a deep dislike of Disney.

Seemingly, this was one of these “interest-based” ads. But I have absolutely no interest in Disney. I don’t have young children and I don’t long for my childhood, but some system decided that I needed to go to a Disney resort. There was an “AdChoices” link beside the ad and I clicked on it several times and tried to opt out. It didn’t work but I expected that.

“Banner ads didn't always suck,” writes Joe McCambley of The Wonderfactory. “I should know. I helped create the first one. My children tell me that's like inventing smallpox.”

McCambley goes on to say that the original banner ads were useful. However, “before long, content and utility were corrupted by the only thing big agencies understood: reach and frequency,” he states. “We were back to delivering what TV spots, radio spots, and print ads had delivered for years: sales messages. The rest, as they say, is history.”

McCambley stresses that the Web is about doing things, and that the mobile Web is even more task-focused. He quotes Google's Eric Schmidt, then with Sun Microsystems, who said way back in 1998 that "Customer service is the killer app of the Web." So true. According to McCambley, “Brands such as Google, Zappos, Amazon, eBay, and others win because they ask 'How can I help you?' instead of 'What can I sell you?'"

According to McCambley, “Advertisers and their agencies, for the most part, don't know how to be helpful.” And this goes to the heart of the matter. “Get rid of the marketing department!” Chris Baylis of Tribal DDB Amsterdam bluntly states. “Marketing departments have become self-serving entities and run the risk of no longer reflecting the company’s interests.”

Are traditional ad agencies and traditional marketing departments in bed with each other in a marriage made in hell? In many organizations the ad agency and marketing department seem to be comforting each other, doing the same old things, putting up big banners and small banners, and trying to think of something really ‘cool’ that will make them relevant. It’s like a death embrace as they spiral towards irrelevancy.

“You can skip this ad in 15 seconds,” Baylis writes. “Your article will be ready to read in 5, 4, 3, 2 … 1. Welcome to the world of advertising, a world of endless interruptions where brands, at best, try to borrow your attention for a few moments, and at worst, steal your time .… Which means agencies are increasingly providing window dressing for their client’s ailing business models and not helping them face the challenges of the modern shared and networked economy.”

The future is about being useful. People know what they want when they come to the Web. Don’t disrupt, interrupt, distract or annoy them. Help them succeed at completing the task they came to do.