As someone who works on the internet and who formerly worked in print, I’m pretty dependent on the people who sell advertising. This relationship always has made me a little anxious because I don’t believe in traditional display ads and they do. A lot. It isn’t that they just tend to be scattershot and irrelevant, it is that the only support that display works are the testimony of the people who sell them and those “Caught You Looking” billboards and classified ads.
Maybe I spend too much time online but I feel like, in the age of targeted ads, the same amount of effort it takes ad people to convince businesses that it still is the 1950s could be better channeled. After all, it is possible to find the person to whom you’re hoping to match with the message. It just isn’t as easy as citing eyeballs.
Even when small companies do target, they have this mentality that they need to cast a huge net, targeting such a wide swath of people as to render the targeted ads no better than a TV spot. I live in a pretty religious region, so I get a lot of ads like this:
I know Pandora still is this kind of AM radio knockoff, grabbing ad revenue where it can, but you would figure they knew enough about me as a user to not serve me a kooky religious app. My marketing friends are pointing out that I saw this as and also reacted to it. Allow me to retort: Roadkill doesn’t make me hungry for fresh meat.
More to the point, though, my inability to get past how dumb and ugly these things tend to be also is why I’m an awful salesperson. I mean, as a writer I get rejection letters all the time. Each time I do, I think, “I’ve got to improve my stories.” But when ad people hear, “Your work is poorly conceived, poorly executed and completely off the mark shit,” they chalk that up as a win. So much so that the extra revenue spills over into my pocket for producing gray stuff that goes in between the (often irrelevant) ads. I’m happy enough for it, but having migrated from print to digital, I still live under constant worry people are going to get hip and I’m going to have to get a proper job.
I’m sure this ad is super appropriate
Full disclosure: This is an actual advertisement
On being a target
It’s also fair and true to say that I’m part of the reason I get such poorly targeted ads. I do enough research that my AdWords (or whatever ad server targets me on my desktop) don’t really have a chance at finding their mark. I wrote a story about the Confederate flag just after the 2016 election and wanted to know what they cost (cheap ones start at, like, $3). It took a full month to stop getting Confederate flag and other race-baiter starter kit ads to stop showing up in my feed.
But that I understand. I was searching for the price of Confederate flags so Google made certain assumptions about me. I’m also overweight, white and middle-aged:
I might be one of the few people who doesn’t mind super targeted ads. They flatter me a little bit, even when they insult me. I’m seeing these more and more. My birthday is October 10 (feel free to send gifts) and increasingly I’m getting ads for October-branded stuff. A lot of it still is garbage but since I don’t buy a lot of stuff online, you have to give them credit for trying.
Facebook has a load of information on me so I really do expect them to show me junk that conceivably I could buy (even though I totally won’t). I’m always torn about whether I should click on an ad just to cost the company an extra few cents for wasting my time and to make them invest even more in convincing me I need October-branded gear. If I’m in line or something, I’m pretty likely to click on through because as long as I have to have ads served to me as if they were posts, I may as well be amused by them.