There's an article today in the New York Times about how brands are working on new packaging designed to catch consumers eyes as they wander through the grocery aisles. The basic idea is that people are ignoring advertising. They get their news via feed readers, they digitally record their favorite TV shows and they surf the web with banner blindness. That's making it harder and harder for companies to get their messages across. It's also causing them to look for new ways to compete for your attention.

From the NY Times article:

In the last 100 years, Pepsi had changed the look of its can, and before that its bottles, only 10 times. This year alone, the soft-drink maker will switch designs every few weeks.

Kleenex, after 40 years of sticking with square and rectangular boxes, has started selling tissues in oval packages.

Coors Light bottles now have labels that turn blue when the beer is chilled to the right temperature. And Huggies' Henry the Hippo hand soap bottles have a light that flashes for 20 seconds to show children how long they should wash their hands.

Consumer goods companies, which once saw packages largely as containers for shipping their products, are now using them more as 3-D ads to grab shoppers' attention.

The article goes on to mention products that speak when you pick them up (i.e. a package of Kraft cheese that says "I go great with Triscuits!") and that offer a "sensory experience." (Your can of Wild Cherry Pepsi might spray you with a cherry scent as you open it.)

I'll be honest with you, my first thought when I read the article was "no wonder every other person in America has ADD or AADD."

My second thought was "if every last product is shouting at me to buy stuff, or wafting me with cherry scent or flashing it's lights at me...I think I'd run screaming from the store."

Then I reached the end of the article and the author included a quote making the same point.

"If you're walking down a row in a supermarket and every package is screaming at you, it sounds like a terrifying, disgusting experience," said Tracy Lovatt, director for behavioral planning at BBDO North America, an advertising agency in the Omnicom Group.

My third thought was "hmm...it's sort of like working keywords into a web site."

Sometimes small business owners have a hard time understanding why they have to limit their optimization efforts to one or two phrases per page. What they fail to realize is that something only stands out if it's different from everything else. Search engines can only recognize that a phrase is important/relevant if it IS the most important thing on the page. As soon as you start trying to optimize for three or four or five phrases, you confuse the engines.

It's like the person who tells you every movie is "their favorite" or "the best movie ever!" Eventually, you realize they don't have very high standards and you stop giving credence to their opinion.

So just as the idea of every last product shouting for your attention means that none of them will end up getting it, you need to realize that trying to make the search engines think A, B, C, D and E are all "important" will end up with the engine thinking none of them are.

Optimize your pages for the phrases that are MOST important. If you need to target more phrases, add more content. Otherwise, you'll end up looking like that grocery store from hell. One big flashing, smelling, shouting mess that engines and people run screaming from. (Ok, it might not be THAT bad, but still...it won't be good.)

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Search Engine Guide > Jennifer Laycock > When Everything Competes for Attention, Nothing Wins

Jennifer Laycock is the Editor of Search Engine Guide, the Social Media Faculty Chair for MarketMotive and offers small business social media strategy & consulting. Jennifer enjoys the challenge of finding unique and creative ways to connect with consumers without spending a fortune in marketing dollars. Though she now prefers to work with small businesses, Jennifer’s clients have included companies like Verizon, American Greetings and Highlights for Children.