The flawed optimism of digital advertising models

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“Do you do any work on how annoying you are?” – Peter Day to an ad re-targeter…

In Business, the podcast by the BBC’s Peter Day, is something I have enjoyed for years. Every now and again he does a programme which is so exactly pertinent to things I’m working on that I listen to the whole thing with a broad grin, while a sort of Hallelujah chorus jangles about in the back of my mind while I am listening…

For Your Information was one of those. I’ll be coming back to some of the trains of thought that departed this particular station in some future blog posts, especially its focus on information overload’s effects on productivity and organisational effectiveness, which connects directly with the web superskills theme I talked about at TEDx in January.

For now, the thought I want to share is one sparked by a comment that Peter Day made to a online advertising re-targeter: “Do you do any work on how annoying you are?”

He was talking about the irritation he might feel when an ad for something he searched for days ago followed him around for days afterward.

The response wasn’t convincing. Of course you don’t want to annoy your potential customers, said the re-targeter, and they provide tools to help you not blitz people.

I wonder how many users of the system calibrate in that way?

Re-targeting is just the latest in a long line of advertising technologies and innovations – latterly mostly in digital – which promise – and often deliver – “uplift”, greater click-throughs, sales, awareness etc. than previous methods.

There are two broad responses to an ad following you around the web. The first is “Wow, that’s cool!” The second is a raised eyebrow, a suspicious sneer, a question: “Why is that happening? How do they know who I am? What elese do they know?”

Response one typically comes from, er, people in digital advertising. The second, in my experience, comes from anyone else.

The steady flow of privacy nightmare stories and Facebookphobia in the media and generally in people’s consciousness is raising a – probably healthy – scepticism about online media. The more digitally literate the average user becomes the more they question what is happening to their personal data and how it is being used.

Wishful thinking on the part of online media companies and digital agencies means that not enough work is going into thinking about this growing, fundamental user need.

Apart from the inconvenience of facing up to the possibility that people might not want to play exactly the role alloted for them in the great media/marketing ecosystem, the digital advertising industry is let down by a kind of fatal optimism. They only want to look at the good news in the data and not the bad.

The thing is, that the bad news might be as useful, even more useful than the bad.

To illustrate, take a look at “success” in a typical online display campaign. A clickthrough rate of  0.2%.

Doesn’t matter what happened to the other 99.8%, i.e. most people. They simply weren’t interessted enough to look.

When it comes to re-targeted ads, social ads, etc., the clickthrough rate improves over that of typical ads. I wonder if annoyance and negative feelings to brands using these techniques does too?

Clues about what people don’t like in ads – signals of dissatisfaction, if you like – abound, but it always the positive outcome on which paid media professionals are focused. Maybe there would be more use in looking at all the data, including the damage you may be doing your own cause?

 

 

 

3 comments

  1. Richard Stacy

    Could it be that the web is going to split in two – the social web and the anti-social web? (or to put it another way – the relevant web and the irrelevant web) This split may exist in people’s heads as much as in a physical reality. Ultimately digital advertising will only have permission to exist in the anti-social web (i.e. the web of the low relevance) whereas the social web will be defined by the expectation of receiving information of high relevance – i.e. answers to specific questions. 

    This ad was shown to me recently by James Rosenthal, Global Agency Business leader at Google – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q6i0Hjphvzk – I now use it to demonstrate what people want in the social web – i.e. not advertising as we currently know it, but content which answers questions. The anti-social web won’t necessarily be seen as annoying – just not especially relevant

  2. Anonymous

    With click-through rates as low as they are and content farms slipping down the search engine rankings,  you’d think that division is already here, in part…

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