By George Stenitzer published April 10, 2015

As More Say ‘No’ to Ads, It’s Time to Immunize Content Marketing


Around the world, consumers’ power to say “no” to unwanted ads is growing. More and more, people crave complete control of the content they consume. How can content marketing protect itself from this spreading “unwanted-ad disease”?

In France, a pas de publicite  sign stops the delivery of unwanted junk-mail ads. Consumers’ power to choose hurts interruption-driven advertising. Yet it could prove positive for content marketing.


People look forward to great content marketing because it’s helpful. And that’s the difference between content marketing and most advertising. When your content addresses customers’ needs, fears, and pain points in an informative, entertaining way – rather than selling – your customers will want  your content.

Americans’ complete control of the content they receive is surging:

  • More than half of Americans record TV shows to skip the commercials. People increasingly watch TV programming on their mobile devices so they can ignore the ads.
  • Ninety-one percent of consumers unsubscribe, “unlike,” or stop following brands for which they once opted in.
  • Millions of people sign up for the Do Not Call Registry or put their names on stop-junk-mail lists to avoid receiving solicitation calls and mail they don’t want.

As countries grow more vigilant in allowing their citizens to limit junk mail and even billboards, content marketing must immunize itself against the increasing consumer rejection of advertising. We need to help people see clear differences between helpful content marketing and hard-sell advertising. Here are five ways to do it:

1. Permission is gold. Appreciate it with customer-centric content.

The most valuable asset we have is the permission of our readers and customers to share content with them. Earn it every day. Create content your readers will find alluring, relevant, and fascinating – because it’s about them, not about you.

2. Give them what they want.

Some 10% to 20% of your content will greatly outperform the rest, so use analytics to create more of the content your readers want most. Track changes in tastes and keep your content fresh, newsy, and useful.

3. Keep your customers’ names and addresses up to date.

Personalize mail and email to increase the odds your content gets delivered and noticed. Get customers’ names right: Nothing is thrown away faster than a letter addressed to the wrong name.

4. Earn attention in seven seconds.

Remember, in the battle for attention, we compete not only against other marketing but against any content on a page or screen. We need to capture readers’ attention in the first seven seconds. How?

Use images or cartoons, which increase readership by up to 70%. Tell readers what’s in it for them  in the first seven seconds – 23 words or less. Keep headlines, sentences, and paragraphs short and clear. Develop a message map to make your message concise and sticky.

Simple-Message-Map5. If you apply Big Data, be smart. 

People don’t want to feel that sellers know too much about them or that their personal information is being used in the wrong way. Use Big Data judiciously. Avoid making assumptions.

For example, recently a mobile company matched my user file with my U.S. Census data. Because I’m Hispanic, the company began writing me in Spanish – even though I had done business with it for years in English, which is my first language.

When marketers make too big a leap – like assuming it’s OK to change a language preference based on census data – and use Big Data the wrong way, it stinks.


People don’t want to process the clutter of 5,000 advertising messages each day. Yet, customers are willing to receive or view content that is a real help. That’s how content marketing can win attention even as hard-sell advertising loses potency.

Consumers are getting better and better at resisting the marketing they don’t want. It’s up to us content marketers to create what customers do want – and thereby immunize content marketing against “unwanted-ad disease.”

Ready to make an immunization plan? Follow CMI’s simple, step-by-step plan to integrate unique, impactful, and strategic content marketing into your organization. Get our new workbook today.

Cover image by DodgertonSkillhause, morgueFile, via

Author: George Stenitzer

George Stenitzer founded Crystal Clear Communications to create inventive answers to your marketing challenges. Earlier, he served 13 years as vice president – marketing and communications at Tellabs. CMI named George Content Marketer of the Year for thought-provoking content. BtoB magazine twice named him a Best Marketer. George’s weekly Simplify Marketing blog appears at and he tweets as @riverwordguy.

Other posts by George Stenitzer

  • John Bottom

    Nice post George, and everything you say about raising the quality of content marketing is true. But it’s only part of the job. In fact, quality content (as Mark Schaefer would put it) simply earns you the right to sit at the table. You then have to get it out there – and that can often mean advertising it. So we’re back at Square One. Content marketers also have to think about the part they play in the messages that they too must bombard their customers with. Your Point 4 acknowledges this: we have only a few seconds to convince potential readers that they should invest time in our content because they get something in return. That is the essence of good advertising.

    So I agree with your points – but insist that content marketing and advertising are not opposites. They are complementary skills that all modern marketers need.

    • Alex Braun

      Great point, John. I think what we traditionally have thought of as advertising—i.e. billboards, magazine ads and even banners ads hawking a product directly—is pretty narrow.

      There are a zillion simpler examples of how content marketing and advertising can work together, but the one I love the most is the ad Squarespace ran for Jeff Bridges’ “Sleeping Tapes” album during this year’s Super Bowl. I thought was pretty brilliant that they were able to tell such a compelling, bizarre story and use their product itself as the content marketing medium.

      Not every company can do that, but I think it’s a great example of what’s possible if we expand our notion of what content marketing and advertising are supposed to look like. Here’s a full post I wrote about it in February, if you’re interested in reading further:

  • Jacqueline Lee

    Hi George, I think you’re so right to see the push away from ads as an opportunity for content marketers. I would add frequency of messaging as an ingredient we have to consider. Even useful content delivered way too often feels like a hard sell.

    • George Stenitzer

      Thanks for your post.

      Agreed! It’s possible to wear out even my favorite songs by playing them over and over too many times.

      Too much frequency is obnoxious. But too little won’t break through: we need to find the right balance.


  • George Stenitzer


    Thanks for your comments. Yes, I also look at advertising as a means to propagate content. Ads play a key role in building brands.

    People want to be helped and entertained, which content marketing does so well. But they don’t want to be interrupted and sold hard — which is why we see so much of a backlash against advertising.

    I expect great content marketing to be embraced in ads and other media because it’s helpful, useful and fun.


  • Jen McGahan

    I like your take on Big Data, George. It shouldn’t be used if it results in “creepy” content. Some distance is just plain polite, even if there is a raft of obtainable knowledge about consumers these days.

  • Mike Myers

    Interesting discussion here and a great article. I agree with your point, George, that content marketing needs to distinguish itself from advertising. But I also hear John’s point about advertising as a tool for brands that’s not going away.

    To me, it all comes down to where people are in their journey/funnel (pick your metaphor)…if it’s early on, they aren’t ready to buy and don’t want to be sold; content marketing is appealing at this time because it helps them as they learn.

    If they’re further along in the process and are ready to buy, advertising (and other means of helping them get what they need) are useful and people are more open to that.

    Long story short, brands need to know their audiences and use the right tools at the right time to help them.

    • George Stenitzer

      Mike, Agreed, advertising will be with us always. The problem shows up at the extremes, for example, people tune out when advertising that sells too hard. At the other extreme, there’s no way for content marketing to help a buyer too much.

  • Courtney Canfield

    I love this quote: “When your content addresses customers’ needs, fears, and pain points in an informative, entertaining way – rather than selling – your customers will want your content.” If I had to choose a sentence that sums up what content marketing is and why it matters, this would be it. Thanks!

    • George Stenitzer

      Thanks, Courtney! I’m blushing ; )

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  • Concerned B2B content marketer

    @disqus_4W09JWY65z:disqus I’m curious as to your thoughts on giving reader information to advertisers that we’re providing content marketing for (such as a custom email newsletter for example and sharing with them the readers that clicked through to the sponsored content). We’ve never done this before and it would mean completely re-working our privacy policy as we currently in no way give reader info to advertisers. It’s a niche market that we cover so it’s not like it’s an ever-growing field of names but some are arguing that it will make us more “competitive.” I think it’s makes us less competitive – why charge for the milk if we’re giving the truck away for free? Or whatever that expression is! 🙂

    • Concerned B2B content marketer

      Weird, that should’ve tagged @georgestenitzer:disqus (trying again)

    • George Stenitzer

      Yes, I would offer reader information to advertisers. Why? Because as a marketer I greatly value the names of readers who click through to our sponsored content … and I’d be willing to pay more than if you did not provide the names. Also, if have competitors who provide names, that would put you at a competitive disadvantage. My Twitter handle is @riverwordguy, by the way.

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