Don Marti

Fri 11 Oct 2013 03:54:09 AM PDT

Making the rounds

Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful is making the rounds.

Doc Searls Weblog

Slashdot interview (Click "Hide/Show Transcript" for text.) Thanks to Roblimo for the opportunity. From the comments: YttriumOxide is using Facebook ads for a book on psychedelics, and Znork makes an interesting point about temporal targeting of users. And an anonymous comment:

The problem is that most people don't understand how advertising succeeds. It does not succeed by eliciting the "Shut up and take my money!" response, as most people assume. If it did, then targeted ads would be the way to go. But "banner blindness" has long been recognized, and click-throughs are generally pathetic.

However, advertising remains successful by subtly, gently shaping your awareness, tastes and motivation on every level from lifestyle, to lifestyle accessories, to brands, to products, to sellers.

Most people resist the notion that they are manipulated in this way, and thus cling to the "logic" of targeted advertising and the belief that it can only benefit them by presenting them with deals for items that they happen to be on a hair trigger to buy.

That model might work, but it is not the model of advertising that works now, and the latter is the point of Marti's argument -- that targeted ads are undermining the existing successful aspects of advertising. Worse, they do so by taking the worst performing facet of advertising, and positing a "fix" that will allow it to replace the best facets.

It isn't just a choice between direct response or subtle manipulation, though. Advertising does carry a signal that it's in your interest to be able to interpret, and the less that the ad is specific to you, the more information about the advertiser's intentions it carries.

In the pre-web media environment, I spent a few minutes of dealing with direct marketing per day, sorting my postal mail and handling cold calls. But I spent a lot more time with the signalful advertising in newspapers, magazines, and on TV. Somehow the balance of how much targeted and non-targeted material I have to deal with has changed a lot. And I get way, way less value from advertising now.

Adtech proponents like to quote John Wanamaker's famous saying, half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half, and, of course, then add that with the next generation of adtech, that waste will go away. But it can't. Advertising is an exchange of value: the advertiser gives information (not just the content of the ad, the signal that the ad exists at all, and where it appears) in exchange for attention. When targeted advertising tries to change the deal, and ask for attention without offering anything in return, users respond by blocking the worthless ads.