SXSW blog: The age of annoyance

Naked Creative's Paula Swirla on how marketers can avoid getting on the nerves of consumers in this era of (too much) choice.

The team at Naked Creative is blogging from SXSW Interactive this week. Check back for more from the festival, and follow their micro-blogging progress at

By Paula Swirla, group account director, Naked Creative

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It seems that everywhere we turn these days there is someone asking us to do something – take an action – to prove we are engaged and connected (always on). In this world of information overload, it is easy to see how everyone and every brand is fighting for our attention.

Last weekend’s session on this topic was simple. It was all about how marketers should create a balance between universal norms and social relationships. When a balance is achieved we find “The E-Spot” – the place where annoyance doesn’t exist and the consumer is engaged by choice (according to The Age of Annoyance).

SXSWi is overwhelming to say the least. With a choice of over 1,000 sessions to cram into five days, you really are able to only experience about 1% of all the content on offer. Similar in context to this topic, there are so many marketers vying for our attention at every turn making it virtually impossible to fully take in everything. Our eyeballs and fingertips have never been worth more than they are today. But how does a marketer break through and not annoy? Emerging technologies have made it simple for marketers to reach people; however, this tightrope is becoming increasingly difficult to balance in this age of annoyance. Take Oreo’s almost-instant viral ad during the blackout at the Super Bowl. Was it really as good as many in the industry claimed? As consumers, do we really need that type of speed aimed at us?

If you do a quick search online about this topic you will discover hundreds of articles and blog posts related to this topic. From “8 Annoying Things Brands do on Twitter” to “20 Things Your Most Annoying Friends do on Facebook” – we live in an age in which the technologies that are present in our everyday lives and the information that we have at our fingertips is bound to annoy even the most patient person. Where any time we turn on our computer or mobile device we inhabit a world in which anything that pops up on our screens to announce something new occupies our attention.

So what is annoyance anyway? Annoyance is rooted in a norm violation, specifically in interruptions of norm violations. It can lead to emotions such as frustration and anger.

The speed at which we transmit and receive information is critical. People today act spitefully towards computers in much the same way that they do humans. If you start with any social situation where there are norms and rules (and thus expectations) but replace a person with a computer, the results of the social rule will essentially stay the same. People are being replaced with social and technology platforms, creating an annoyance in the digital space. The new “norm” is technology that provides us with countless options but must also be fast, smart and intuitive.

We live in a tailored, customizable world where things are supposed to be useful, meaningful, fast and free. Marketers need to understand and respect this norm, allowing us to be free from annoyance. A quick look into the Firefox add-on Collusion will allow you to witness in real-time how the data that is collected as you browse the digital world creates a spiderweb of interaction between companies and other trackers. The tons of collected data points are being aggregated to form a profile of your preferences, only to be used against you later. Consumers and marketers alike beware.

As marketers, we continue to add new communication vehicles to the already exhausted list, and with each new vehicle we add both the ability to sell more, but we also increase our ability to annoy. It is critical that as marketers we are aware of this and prioritize our strategies accordingly. Choose a few channels and do it right, rather than wasting time and resources trying to be everywhere. Spreading yourself thin and not focusing efforts where it counts could lead to your brand being rejected and scoring high on the annoyance radar.