Fast Company

What Are You Looking At?

So I'm not just a blog writer, I'm an active blog reader. Have been for years--and I seriously doubt this is a passing fancy. So several things converged in my mind after reading several disparate blogs. I thought it might make for an interesting post ... and if I'm wrong about that at least I will have shared a few cool sites with you.

A very popular blog by the Chicago-based firm 37signals--one I quite like--is called Signal vs. Noise. The post displays screenshots of newspapers front pages that feature digital ads snugged right up against some truly cringe-worthy headlines (as we've become used to seeing). Now, perhaps there are guidelines that these papers missed about not placing ad about juxtaposing cigarette ads and cancer headlines, or not placing TV commercials heralding the return of the McRib next to a segment about morbid obesity. But the author quite rightly points out that even for brands with no topical "fears," how many times can your bank's brand be situated right above news about human rights abuses and warmongering tyrants before viewers start making a few subliminal associations?

TechCrunch recently bagged on Tripadvisor for giving its users an eyeful of ads, banners, and promoted links. No joke: travel is complicated. Having product shoved at you only makes it worse; and TechCrunch said it goes so far that, quote, "It's enough to make you want to go to a travel agent." Well, all I can say here is that you do get what you pay for. (Oh, and yes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.) I've said it before, but a few bucks for a service fee to get expert-level assistance, professionalism, and sophisticated pricing/packaging is, IMHO, well worth my hard-earned cash and even harder-earned time off. And while I realize many would rather slog through 30 minutes of online forms/digital bureaucracy, count me among those who chooses to be treated as a human being. The prognosticators say I should enjoy it while it lasts. And for the past 10-ish years, I've been doing so.

Getting back on track to a user/viewer/shopper experience--I recently heard about Hipmunk. The nice thing about this interface is how clean the design is, while still offering a sophisticated pricing/display mechanism. I really hope it takes off--but the reason I think it will is because the user psychographic which motivated the hipmunk team to build such a thing is driven by a surprising trend: online bookers are getting smarter. It's not a coincidence that hipmunk didn't emerge at the same time as the old schoolers--10 years ago no one knew what they were looking at and users wanted big radio buttons and simple, prioritized list displays. Now people are much more used to infographics and far more sophisticated ways of displaying information online. They've also gotten to understand that booking travel is complex, and, in reality, pretty difficult. The "Travel Made Easy!" (or whatever) entreaties of yesteryear have created a disillusioned online user base. Users know they're being gamed and that travel isn't easy to buy--so why should it look that way? It shouldn't, of course.

These topics always ask us the same question as consumers: what are you looking at? Certainly the Signal vs. Noise blog has a heavy message for vendors of travel: headlines and global issues have arguably the strongest influence of all on travel patterns. Being bombarded with ads and promotions obfuscates important information in an already difficult online transaction. And if the innovators at hipmunk are following the right scent, it's this: online travel consumers are getting lots sharper. Lots.

Road Warrior • Miami • Madrid • www.amadeus.com

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