Digital marketing and offline: Why all the signs in the world might still not get the message across

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I’m all for transparency. Let our readers know that our tweets are not endorsements, that content is sponsored and let’s plaster signs to make it simple for them to see what’s up and what’s down. Sometimes, the sign might be a pop up!

Publishers put disclaimers on things, warnings, alerts, whatever. You know what I’m talking about. Then we have the case of social media networks and websites making us check boxes that verify that we read 525 pages of terms of services. Please!

And I was reminded of this when on a content marketing road trip to Minneapolis with Mariah Obiedzinski. See, there’s a lot of strategy discussions that can happen in the 8-hour or so round trip. So we are busy chatting. At one point others wanted to join so we had phone call discussions.

That was great and all and always interesting and innovative, but then I almost ran out of fuel. Whoops. The next gas station was a few miles and I think I could make it there.

As we pulled up, it was an older model gas station:

Oh no. Where do I pay with my credit card? Cash only? What year is this? I need my credit card points, but most importantly, I hardly ever have cash – though it’s probably good to have some.

What’s interesting here is that this exact pump, the one I was looking at has signs that credit card sales are allowed, but the standard slot to swipe wasn’t there. I even went inside and asked if I could pay with credit card. They said “yup, just swipe it outside.” Huh?

Looking back, there were plenty of signs:

And there was a credit card reader, but it was off to the side:

It wasn’t in the usual place. And to get a receipt I had to go inside and they gave me a handwritten one, by the way.

Now, I’m not picking on this rural Iowa gas station at all. They were very nice and helpful and helped me avoid being stranded on the side of Interstate 35.

It also made me wonder though, if somebody running strong on energy drinks is looking for this exact same information – how to use my credit card – and I miss it because it’s not in the usual spot, how many other things are people missing? I was highly alert!


It’s something to be aware of for digital marketers. Intent matters. But it can also be hard. Here’s the law and here’s what’s recommended when it comes to disclosures and signage of certain content. But it’s about what the audience knows when consuming content.

One example that I like is The Points Guy. Every article, no matter the topic, has this disclaimer:

This post contains references to products from one or more of our advertisers. We may receive compensation when you click on links to those products. For an explanation of our Advertising Policy, visit this page.

Even the articles that clearly have no affiliate links and just link to other articles. But it sets the stage and I now just skim over it. I know that The Points Guy makes its money from credit card signups and other affiliate strategies. That’s fine by me and I’ve signed up for credit cards through them. I also find a lot of their content highly interesting as a frequent traveler.

I’m okay with our relationship.

Something to mull over as all of us are trying to do what’s right for our brands and also our audiences.