What is Advertising Clutter?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Advertising clutter is a term used to refer to the very high volume of advertising people are exposed to on a daily basis. It can be difficult for advertisers to cut through the clutter to reach potential consumers. New methods of advertising are constantly being developed in an attempt to stay ahead of the curve in the advertising world. Innovative and aggressive approaches to advertising are expected from most advertising agencies as it can be difficult to reach people with conventional means.

Sign spinners on street corners is one way businesses can cut through the advertising clutter.
Sign spinners on street corners is one way businesses can cut through the advertising clutter.

The number of individual messages people are exposed to on a given day varies, but generally people hear advertisements on the radio, see them on television and in print publications, interact with them online, and sometimes receive them in their mailboxes. Many of these contacts are very brief. Consumers can be overwhelmed by the volume of advertising material they see every day and ads that rise above the clutter will stand out.

Advertising clutter may take up space in a person's mailbox.
Advertising clutter may take up space in a person's mailbox.

Viral marketing is one technique for escaping advertising clutter, as is guerrilla marketing. People can also combat advertising clutter while still using traditional media and advertising techniques by being creative about how their ads are developed and presented. As advertisers adapt to the development of new approaches to advertising, more clutter develops, and they are forced to invent different methods for reaching consumers.

Understanding the role of advertising clutter in the way consumers engage with advertising is important. People developing ad campaigns must think about issues like clutter and how to reach their target demographic. Researchers study the way different groups of people interact with advertising and take note of ads that stand out in given demographics, using this information in the development of advertising strategies. Failure to research a particular demographic well and find out how to reach that demographic can have costly consequences for advertisers, such as campaigns that flop when released into the marketplace.

In addition to being a problem for marketers trying to reach their customers, advertising clutter is also a topic of research by people in other fields. Some sociologists and psychologists are interested in the way advertising shapes social attitudes, and they examine advertising clutter to learn more about how advertising contributes to the way people think, act, and behave. It is also an aesthetic concern in some regions, as seen in cities where some forms of advertising, such as billboards, have been restricted in the interest of keeping communities more beautiful.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


@Sara007 - Honestly, I know where you are coming from. I am one of those people that actually likes advertising clutter. I see it is a bit of a challenge to look through the insane amount of advertising and find things I actually like, that I can also get at a discount.

Every week I look forward to the huge stack of flyer advertising that comes in through my mailbox. While a lot of it is garbage, there are some good finds to be had if you are willing to do some reading. If you watch anything like Extreme Couponing on TV you'll see what I mean. Sometimes it pays to not ignore advertising clutter.


While a lot of advertising clutter can get annoying it actually does have a few benefits. I know for myself that while e-mail spam from companies can be a pain to sift through, you can actually get a lot of good deals if you are willing to look through the advertising. It seems like advertisers are always trying to outdo one another with better deals.

Really, I only have myself to blame for letting myself be on so many mailing lists, but the free goodies in my opinion are well worth the spam I receive. Sometimes I will get coupons for up to 80% off a product I like and free samples of new goods from companies. Not to mention the free gifts around my birthday.


Marketers' response to advertising clutter is to spend huge amounts of money on researching new approaches to reach the niche of consumers they want to market.

Most ads are very expensive,and they are getting to be more and more complex and elaborate. Companies pay a lot of money to have focus groups view their ads and give feedback on how effective the ads are. They also pay social scientists to study how marketing campaigns affect the purchasing habits of consumers.

Besides other conditions, expensive attempts to find effective advertisements that sell products results in higher prices for the consumers.

Where will it end?


@sinbad - It most certainly has had the same affect on me, but interestingly in that it helped me to be less of a consumer it has also helped me get rid of the clutter in my house.

Being constantly bombarded with images of "stuff" made me want less stuff, not more and my house is all the airier for it!

I must say though, that I do quite enjoy some advertising campaigns, they make me laugh and I find are quite creative! For example, this is a silly one, but how ingenious was it to have cows market that chicken restaurant.

Every time I see the sign "Eat more chikin" held up by a cow, I think, "If I was not a vegetarian I would almost be tempted to eat a chicken sandwich simply because of the udder genius of that advertisement." (Sorry bad udder pun intended!)


I personally would like to thank advertising clutter for actually doing the opposite of its intentions.

I started to feel so overwhelmed and so "consumerized" by the constant bombardment of advertisements (and in so many advertisements the message always seemed to be the same - buy this look pretty, smell pretty, and be happy, sexy, etc.) that it has completely stopped me from shopping for the most part.

And the interesting thing is that I love fashion and clothes, but all of the hype and selling has in turn made me appreciate one of a kind articles of clothing and vintage clothing because you do not see them everywhere!

So instead I do what my husband calls "closet shopping" and find things that I have not worn in a while and pair them in a new funky way with some of my more modern clothing and I find myself and my wallet much happier with the new take on an old favorite.

Has advertising clutter had the same affect on anyone else?


The most annoying advertisements to me are those found on internet sites. When I go to an online site, I'm going there for information, to buy something, or to research. I especially dislike the "flashing, bells and whistles" pop-up ads, or the ones that obscure part of the site I want to see. If they are subtle ads that I can ignore, they're all right.

As far as TV ads go, they are long and I often can't follow them. I usually mute during ads, and read something.

With magazines, I just look in the table of contents, write down the articles I want to read and go right to them.

Ads aren't going to go away. You just have to find ways to ignore them - - unless you enjoy viewing them!


@JessicaLynn - I like my books advertising free too! Advertising is rather annoying, but I don't mind dealing with ads if I'm using a free service.

There are some free music apps that are pretty great, but you have to listen to an add every so often. That to me is OK, because it's not a total overload. But sometimes when I visit a webpage and there are about ten different ads on the screen I just get overwhelmed!


@jholcomb - You're right, books definitely aren't an advertising free zone anymore! In fact, Amazon now offers a Kindle with "special offers" that has advertising on it! The consumer only pays about 20 dollars less for that model than the regular one too!

I think this is just a little bit excessive. I mean, talk about advertising clutter. There are advertisements on TV, Magazines, the Internet, and the side of the highway. Having ads in my books would be way too much for me!


@SailorJerry - I know what you mean about how the more ads you see, the less you actually get from them. I'm always remembering a little bit of a commercial or billboard but finding that I don't remember what product was being advertised! (Then there are the commercials that are so annoying that I would never, ever purchase the product, visit the store, etc., but that's another matter.)

It seems like the ones I remember the best are the funny ones. But again, remember the commercial is no guarantee I'll remember the product.

Even books are less of an advertising-free zone than they used to be. Some young adult books now, in particular, seem to have product placement. And don't get me started on magazines! Every time I read one, I have to go through and remove all those loose cards first.


It almost seems like the tragedy of the commons, in which a town has a common pasture that is over-grazed because everyone wants to get their "share" and no one has an interest in preserving it. All the advertisers want their share of our attention so they all shout, shout, shout, but meanwhile no one can hear anything!

Here's my favorite way to clear advertising clutter - I turn off the TV and read a book! I also have a browser add-on that removes ads from the pages of articles that I'm trying to read.

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