Try going to a public space without being sold to. A park, a festival, a damn picnic.

I was at a picnic recently to celebrate the opening of a new community building, an arts center. I counted seven booths selling can’t-live-without-them items such as cookbooks, lawn decorations, and cell phone covers. Cell phone covers.

This was not a fundraiser, it was a picnic. I didn’t want to postpone my potato salad so I could buy a licensed NCAA cell phone cover.

Isn’t it time we agreed that we don’t have to be selling all the time?

That’s the idea behind Market-Free Zones. A Market-Free Zone is a mutually-agreed upon space where we agree to not sell stuff. Wouldn’t that be nice?

The concept of Market-Free Zones can extend to television, radio, and the internet as well.

Market-Free Zones in Media

Television:
Do we really need the pop-up ads at the bottom of our screens while we’re enjoying a show? Because reading about the next episode of The Walking Dead in the bottom right corner of my hi-def TV really isn’t enhancing my enjoyment of Schindler’s List.

Internet:
Too many websites are serving me crawl-down ads on every page. Must the background of your website be a tiled advertisement that when I click (even accidentally) it whips me off to an advertiser?

Note to digital marketers: not every piece of online real estate needs to be an advertisement, a call-to-action, a shopping cart button.

Don’t misunderstand me, I get that “free” content has to be paid for. But consumers are paying for it. In the case of the Internet, users are paying to access the network, we’re paying by being the product (as users on social media and websites we increase your ability to sell ads in the first place), and often we’re customers just trying to make a purchase. But irresponsible ads too often get in the way. And they annoy us too.

According to USA Today, in 1970 the average American was exposed to between 500 and 2,000 advertising messages per day. As of 2014, that number had increased to more than 4,500.

We are bombarded by advertisements. In the digital age with cell phones, tablets, smart devices, and comupers being sewn into clothes, the saturation of marketing messages will only increase. But while being “connected” is of comfort to many of us, it’s also a disease, one that irresponsible marketing only makes worse.

All we are saying is: marketing in moderation.

Market-Free Zones in the community

Communities must make an effort to provide public areas that are market-free. At the same time, they should protect citizens from unnecessary advertising that clutters our lives. Some communities do a pretty good job at that, but most do not. Zoning doesn’t address every issue. It might establish a template for where commercial activities can be conducted, but too often the rules and laws are not sensitive enough to the human experience that requires and deserves peace of mind away from the thirsty prying of brands and products and campaigns.

Constrained by budget cuts, many municipalities are renting parks to organizations that put on concerts, festivals, and other events that require tickets. These events are invariably smothered by tables of vendors hawking items. In many communities the default setting for their parks is “being used for commercial purposes.” Citizens sitting on the grass reading a book or playing frisbee don’t pay the bills. (Of course citizens do pay the bills, whether it be in property taxes, municipal taxes, or tourist dollars.)

Increasingly, some planning boards are allowing commercial interests to creep into what was once “public space.” The parks, waterfronts, sidewalks, and public buildings owned by your village, township, city, or county, belong to all of us. Do commercial interests need to encroach everywhere?

Practicing responsibility in our own areas of marketing influence

Companies exist to make a profit, I get that. Profits lead to jobs and growth and tax revenue, and on and on. But businesses would be well served to temper their marketing coverage. Just because you have a 1,800-square foot lobby, Chase, doesn’t mean you have to fill it with every advertisement for every product, with videos playing next to the ATM. I’m your customer, give me a break. I’ll reward you with my loyalty if you treat my senses with respect.

Sometimes less is more, and if you create an enclave where I am not simply a customer, but a valued person who you want to have a relationship with, I’ll respect you more for it.

Marketers should be responsible for where, how and why we create campaigns.

In the restaurant: Do we really need to fill the place mats with the faces of the lawyers from the local firm? I’m already a customer, I’m seated at your table. I don’t want to be marketed to between every bite.

In the supermarket: Does the handle on my shopping cart have to be festooned with ads for eyeglasses?

In our gas stations: While I’m pumping the gas that I’ve paid for into my car, do you have to bombard my ears (LOUDLY!!!) with a commercial screaming at me from the tiny screen on the pump?

In our downtown: Why must I endure the chirping sales goons from a timeshare company while strolling through a craft show?

At our sporting events: I’ve paid over $200 for tickets, concessions, and souvenirs for me and my two kids to attend your ballgame. I had to pay for parking too. So, do you still need to blare a video ad between every inning and fill the scoreboards that surround me and my family with commercials for an official fan club? I like the team. I support the team. I am a costumer. I’m in your venue! Can’t you let me enjoy an experience at the ballpark and actually let me hear my family while we sit next to each other?

In our parks: Do the daily specials from the ice cream shop have to be written on the sidewalk?

In our restrooms: Is it necessary to have video ads playing on the bathroom mirror?

In our skies: It’s the 4th of July, I’m at the beach with my family, why the hell do you have to fly a plane over my head with a banner that reads “Build Your Own Big Mac”?

We’ve become so impressed with the technology that allows us to create ad campaigns almost anywhere, that we’ve failed to ask ourselves if it’s wise to do so. Just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should.

In a society that shows signs of troubles from our consumer-driven habits, marketers continue to pile on. Someone has to say enough is enough.