Excuse Me, Please, Do You Mind If I Sell You Something?
By Anne Fisher

(FORTUNE Magazine) – You're not paying attention. Nobody is. It's impossible to absorb everything that marketers throw at you--like the 17,000 new grocery products that were introduced last year alone. Or the 3,000 ad messages you see each day, from billboards to T-shirts to Web page banners to ad stickers on fruit. Or the 10,000 plugs that the average shopper encounters on one trip to a shopping mall. Since the advent of mass media, the ad biz has worried about "clutter." (Remember those obnoxious ring-around-the-collar TV commercials for Wisk detergent? They cut through, however annoyingly.) These days, clutter seems as quaint a concept as school air-raid drills: Exponentially multiplying claims on consumers' eyes and ears--like a vast swarm of constantly breeding mosquitos--have even the savviest niche marketers of the early '90s spending more and more, only to be ignored or (worse) swatted aside.

Seth Godin founded Yoyodyne, the leading direct-marketing company on the Internet, and sold it to Yahoo. In the meantime, he did a lot of thinking, for clients like AT&T, H&R Block, and Sprint, about how to sell things--online or off--in a sales-weary world. The result is Permission Marketing (Simon & Schuster, $24), which seems an odd title until you realize that the traditional approach--the one that isn't working anymore--is what Godin calls Interruption Marketing. Get it? Instead of trying to buttonhole busy people (good riddance to the ring-around-the-collar paradigm), you can charm, seduce, and persuade them; and in lucid detail, this book tells how. Godin is as much a psychologist as a techie, and he writes deliciously, without a whit of jargon or puffery. He wants you to create a market where your customers don't just tolerate your message, but seek it out. And--a litmus test of sincerity if ever there was one--after you've tried out his various ideas, he wants you to write him at Seth@permission.com and tell him how it's going. Not just a smart guy, but a brave one.

--Anne Fisher