Gaffney on America: Now is no time to get cute if you want to build user trust

I've always thought you Brits had a better handle on that great American attitude called 'optimism' than Americans. Churchill, The Beatles, Nick Hornby, Madonna (that's right, she's yours now): need I go further?

This belief was strengthened just the other day when my pessimistic inbox received the new report on the state of the internet from a well-respected, fairly objective group called the Pew Charitable Trust. It showed, to me anyway, that Americans are very suspicious and pessimistic about internet content and security. So, if you guys suffer from this contagion, I'd urge you to make all online marketing as impregnable as Microsoft's servers.

OK, maybe a bit more so.

Here's the key finding of the Pew Report: 66 per cent of users surveyed agreed that at least one devastating attack will occur in the next 10 years on the networked information infrastructure or the country's power grid. As one expert wrote: "A simple scan of the growing number and growing sophistication of the viral critters populating our networks is ample evidence of the capacity and motivation to disrupt."

So, when people see your banner, rectangle, email, rich media or any other kind of communication that you'd like them to interact with, I reckon there's no more important priority than trust. I'm not among those who break out in hives over the thought of terrorists taking down my connection, but I do get a bit sweaty thinking that when I open an email from L.L.

Bean or Apple (ok, so I scored the iPod for Christmas) or The New York Times that my computer will crash from spyware or a virus. Paranoia? It has happened twice.

From a creative point of view, I believe online advertising needs to retain its sophistication but lose its mystery. I just looked at a very slick-looking Acura ad on WSJ.com, which I'd have no trouble clicking on - I knew what it was and what I'd get. A few weeks ago, I saw some ads for new Wes Anderson movie The Life Aquatic, but I had no idea what it was; no click. Teaser campaigns are no good in today's online environment.

We've become globally intelligent as a marketing community because the internet delivers financially efficient, targeted and measurable results.

And we've grown through perseverance and intelligent use of the medium. But, as this year opens up, let's remember that. As the great American optimist Bruce Springsteen says: "This ain't no time to get cute."

John Gaffney is executive editor of Peppers and Rogers Group.

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