Targeted Advertising Considered Harmful
August 4, 2015 12:07 PM   Subscribe


 
I wonder how sophisticated an Internet user the writer of the article is. It's not just the weird statement that online advertising doesn't work, or the underlying assumption in the article that a significant number of people are choosing to block ads, but the backwards-looking nature of the article itself.

I read about half of the article, and mobile ads are mentioned only once, and once again are deemed by the author to have "less value."

That's simply not true. It's true that the nature of mobile advertising is changing. The hot area at the moment is the interstitial space in free-to-play and freemium gaming.

If anything online advertising is getting more sophisticated, notably in the mobile space, and therefore more valuable.
posted by Nevin at 12:21 PM on August 4, 2015


Interesting. It reminds me of stotting. In this case he argues that it's big, high-quality firms using "wasteful" untargeted ad spending to signal to consumers that they're big, high-quality firms that make high-quality stuff.

Nevin: If anything online advertising is getting more sophisticated, notably in the mobile space, and therefore more valuable.

The chart the author presents shows that mobile spending is much lower than the other mediums. How does that intersect with your definition of "valuable"? And the author says:
Targetable ad media have a peak advertising effect, where revenue peaks, then declines, while mass ad media do not.
If that's true, it will be interesting to see how targeted mobile ads fare over time.
posted by clawsoon at 12:28 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


We haven't much data on mobile advertising, as it's too new for the very long term trends he's discussing. We should expect according to the article that mobile advertising winds up experiences the peak advertising effect, losing their signalling value, and becoming worth less than targeted advertising.

There is otoh the Fox New and Talk Radio effect whereby repeatedly telling consumers bullshit they like hearing lets you sell them crap beliefs. We could therefore experience a kinda of "quality collapse" in which consumers lose touch with product quality entirely.

Actually Consumer Reports routinely shows that already happened in specific markets, like inexpensive luggage outlasting expensive luggage. It could become worse though where mobile customers become excessively beholden to their devices and their provider's control.

Ad Nauseam sounds interesting, but I haven't tried it yet.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:38 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


Blocking ads isn't merely about privacy issues or simply not wanting to see ads. There is also the very real problem of ads being used for malware/virus/trojan/whatever delivery. Blocking ads is a defensive move.
posted by Thorzdad at 12:46 PM on August 4, 2015 [26 favorites]


The chart the author presents shows that mobile spending is much lower than the other mediums. How does that intersect with your definition of "valuable"?

Isn't that precisely the point, though? Here's a few highlight slides from Mary Meeker's annual State of the Internet report for this year, and it's pretty obvious that (a) all the attention growth is in mobile (highlight 2) but (b) advertisers are still spending too much on print and haven't properly caught up to the mobile opportunity yet (highlight 3).

For reference, a few years ago, this same presentation showed a deficit in internet spending compared to print - now internet spending has reached its "natural" level (proportional to its attention share) but mobile advertising hasn't. The trend is very, very obvious, though.

(And this is precisely the context in which to consider that Apple is implementing the capability for content blockers to exist on Safari in iOS. The mobile ad experience is going to continue to get more intrusive, but Apple is drawing a line in the sand. Or if you prefer a more cynical take, Apple wants a cut.)
posted by RedOrGreen at 12:53 PM on August 4, 2015


Somewhat ironically, my work is blocking the first link and the Ad Block Bar link is telling me I'm not running an Ad Blocker which I most definitely am.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:01 PM on August 4, 2015


A couple links for folks who want to understand what the fuss about iOS 9's content blockers is all about:

[Wired] Apple’s Support of Ad Blocking May Upend How the Web Works
[MacWorld] Why iOS 9's ad-blocking is bad news for Google
[Apple] Content Blocking Safari Extensions
posted by ArmandoAkimbo at 1:01 PM on August 4, 2015 [2 favorites]


One thing I've noticed is that part of why I don't value the ads on webpages is because the few times I've clicked through it's been inaccurate or irritating. For example, Cracked has a bunch of ads from Linkstream of different things, and every now and then I'd notice one that sounded entertaining. However, every time I clicked, instead of being taken to the thing I found interesting, I was brought to another page of ads. I once spent several minutes trying to get to the thing that interested me without any success - as near as I can tell, Linkstream doesn't actually link to any of it's articles, it just contains chiclets of ads for articles that don't exist.

So now even if a headline might catch my attention, I dismiss it as soon as I realize it's Linkstream because I know I won't be able to actually access what they're advertising.

A similar thing has happened with headlines. So many of the clickbaity headlines have not delivered on their promise that my reaction to them now is one of disgust instead of interest. A peer in the blogging circle I'm in has moved to more clickbaity headlines, and though I like and am interested in her content, the headlines make me feel ill whenever I see them on my blogroll and so I'm contemplating unfollowing her and the publication she writes to. I'm tired of feeling sick when I scan my own blogroll.
posted by Deoridhe at 1:02 PM on August 4, 2015 [19 favorites]


There's two problems with targeted advertising. Well, two and a half.

1) It's creepy as heck.
1a) It doesn't work all that well at all, anyway, but if it did, it would be super-creepy.
2) Downloading all the damn tracking scripts and ad code is usually more data than the entire thing you wanted to see.

We're heading for a reckoning, and it's going to be because of reason 2 more than reason 1, I think.
posted by SansPoint at 1:04 PM on August 4, 2015 [10 favorites]


jeffburdges: There is otoh the Fox New and Talk Radio effect whereby repeatedly telling consumers bullshit they like hearing lets you sell them crap beliefs. We could therefore experience a kinda of "quality collapse" in which consumers lose touch with product quality entirely.

Expensive religious rituals that are paid for by and prop up those in power are working on similar lines: You see how expensive it is to put on the show week after week, and your mind automatically assumes that the quality furnishings must indicate a quality ideology.

To bring us back around to the article, corporate consumerism is the reigning ideology of our time, and it has put on an expensive show for us on TV - millions of hours worth of expensive shows! - for the past few decades, and gotten us all quite comfortable not only with the quality of the products being sold but also the quality of the corporate ideology that provides shape to our world.
posted by clawsoon at 1:11 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


There is also the very real problem of ads being used for malware/virus/trojan/whatever delivery

You don't say.
posted by uncleozzy at 1:15 PM on August 4, 2015 [5 favorites]


I want ads to be targeted to me based on what I actually want to spend money on (e.g. a new album from a band I like) but not try to manipulate me into buying things I don't want (pretty much everything else). It's a conundrum.
posted by klangklangston at 1:26 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


If anything online advertising is getting more sophisticated, notably in the mobile space, and therefore more valuable.

Yeah, I think the guy's entire thesis is that "sophistication" in an advertising medium decreases its ability to signal the seller's confidence in his product, and thus makes it less valuable because the target is less likely to trust it.
posted by Naberius at 1:42 PM on August 4, 2015 [3 favorites]


I use uBlock and Ghostery on Chrome to give ads and trackers the full "Ronda Rousey Doesn't Like Your Ugly Face" treatment (also known as the "This is Not How You Tickle Someone. Please Stop It Ronda, You Are Literally Killing Me" solution). If you aren't that much into depraved and disillusioned browser security, the uBlock and Ghostery combo is like using a prophylactic and setting your genitals on fire during the sex.

The only platform that manages to get ads kinda* right is Steam and that's mostly because I'm interested in PC gaming. Like I will actually click on the popup slideshow thingy with ads that autoplays on launch just to find out about new releases and deals. Let me repeat that: the ads are so interesting that I unironically and at sounds fluids interact with a fucking pop-up window (!) with a slideshow that (!) displays ads (!). My eyeballs would spit in my face if they could.


* grievances: steam (1) is as slow as a dimwitted panda watching paint dry with its butt (2) is always updating or recovering from a update like it was eternally hungover or something (3) it gives you absolutely shitty advice on upgrading your drivers which will totally f-up your computer on the weekend because fuck you wanting to play some left 4 dead 2 you pleb. here have some more updates and why dont you spend the next two days reading up on digital archeology to figure out what the fuck the driver update actually did OH MY GOD WHY THE FUCK IS WINDOWS TRYING TO UPGRADE TO VERSION 10 OVER AND OVER AGAIN CANT YOU SEE THE DESPAIR AND LOATHING IN MY EYES YOU STUPID SHIT YOU'VE ALREADY DOWNLOADED THE INSTALLER LIKE 8 TIMES AND IT'S SEVERAL GIGABYTES THE FANS CANT TAKE IT ANYMORE OH GREAT THE COMPUTER DIED FOR THE ELEVENTH TIME WELL I GUESS I WILL BASH MY HEAD AGAINST THE WALL AND USE THE BLOOD SPLATTER TO PLAY TIC FUCKING TAC TOE WITH MYSELF
posted by Foci for Analysis at 2:17 PM on August 4, 2015 [4 favorites]



Downloading all the damn tracking scripts and ad code is usually more data than the entire thing you wanted to see.

srsly. have you been to tpm lately?

yes, i know i could pay for premium access. not gonna do that ;-)
posted by j_curiouser at 3:46 PM on August 4, 2015


Foci for Analysis, I completely agree with you.

Excuse the 'This!, +1' post, but sometimes you just have to let people know that there are dozens of us!
posted by MacD at 4:43 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


I hope this idea catches on with advertisers and publishers, since targeted advertising subverts the only two valuable things an ad can do for me:

1. Signal the strength of the advertiser (which I never thought about until reading this article)
2. Tell me something I don't know.

The ads I see on Facebook feed have become a parade of "items you recently viewed on Amazon," which is worse than useless, since I already decided to not buy those items*. At least an untargeted ad has a chance of showing me something I never knew I needed.

I have the same problem with personalized search results.

* If an advertiser could take that data and actually figure out the item I was really looking for, they wouldn't need to be in advertising since I'd willingly pay money for their product search service.
posted by cosmic.osmo at 5:41 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's not just the weird statement that online advertising doesn't work

Oh boy, something I know a lot about! I've had a low seven figure digital marketing budget and have used every form of online SEM, CPC, retargeting, remarketing, preroll, social advertising and email marketing campaign you can think of,* both on my own and through various partners.

Want to hear a dirty secret? Most of the advertising didn't work. Return on ad spend (the campaign revenue divided by campaign cost) was below 1 (bad) for everything except for SEM and social, neither of which returned a 2 (ideally you want to make two dollars for every dollar you spend). Retargeting never hit the profitability threshold, although it got close, but even then, the volume was significantly less than SEM, organic or social, so even if it made double what we spent i

So why do we blow all of that money online and continue to do so? Several reasons:

1. There's no better alternative. It still beats print because you can measure it much more easily. With print, we just don't know, and so we'd rather risk on something new then something we're not sure about.

2. There's always something new to try. Two years ago it was retargeting, last year it was look-alike targeting, who knows what it is this year* (I'm out of the ad game). We blew so much money on Quantcast simply by the lure of what they offered.

3. I worked for a DMO (destination marketing organization) and our parent DMOs matched our ad spend so we have more money to throw around, and they want measurement too, plus they give more money for anything new, and if the ROAS doesn't work out well hey, at least we got exposure (which is also measured) and hey, at least we tried something new. Oh look, the 2016 leads are in!

*cough, it's paid content. I see it everywhere.
posted by furtive at 6:05 PM on August 4, 2015 [1 favorite]




furtive: When your return on ad investment is <1, do you continue to spend in those categories solely for the exposure? Your last point seems to indicate yes, but I'd be curious to know how far that goes.
posted by ugly at 1:36 AM on August 5, 2015


Ads for "new albums by bands I like" is a well curated twitter feed, klangklangston, not advertising. We all spend hours forwarding interesting new links, mostly lolcats, but occasionally a product. Ads do not serve a legitimate purpose.

Alright, if you interact with customers publicly over social media, build community, etc., then maybe that provides signaling as well as more direct indicators, but again that's not advertising really. And that's also why everyone retweets your album announcement.
posted by jeffburdges at 1:37 AM on August 5, 2015


"I may be presented with downstream advertising offers, which I can take or leave." The key word here is “downstream.” Lehman goes to a running site and somehow expresses interest in shoes. Later, while he’s browsing some other, possibly unrelated, site, an advertiser “retargets” him with a shoe ad. The “downstream” site can be running whatever is the cheapest content that Lehman is willing to look at at all. Instead of having to place ads on relevant content, an advertiser can chase the user onto cheaper and cheaper sites.

It hadn't occurred to me before that re-targeting allows advertisers to undercut the premium advertising rates on quality websites. Perhaps there should be some method for selling access to that data which would level the playing field.

"Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half" - John Wanamaker (1838–1922)
posted by Lanark at 3:48 AM on August 5, 2015


So why do we blow all of that money online and continue to do so? Several reasons:

1. There's no better alternative. It still beats print because you can measure it much more easily.


Heh. So it's better to go with a strategy that tells you exactly how much you're losing than to go with a strategy that usually makes money but you're not sure how much?
posted by clawsoon at 9:30 AM on August 5, 2015 [2 favorites]


Obligatory John Wanamaker advertising quote.
posted by Chrysostom at 2:08 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


"Ads for "new albums by bands I like" is a well curated twitter feed, klangklangston, not advertising."

Nope.

A little background on my perspective: I worked as a music journalist for about seven years. I have a pretty good strategy on how to find new music that will interest me. But:

1) A "well curated twitter feed" is only marginally helpful, since I like a fair number of bands and labels that don't have active social media marketing, and even then, the perfect compromise point between missing new albums in the churn and missing new albums because I've pruned feeds that are only, say, 30 percent relevant, that compromise point doesn't really exist.

2) Even then, getting to the purchase point takes work — I hear about albums coming out that I'm interested in, but don't have fixed release dates or whatever, or I just miss calendaring them. It's worthwhile to remind me that I am interested.

3) That PR and marketing IS advertising. Sending out one-sheets to journos is advertising an upcoming album. Posting about it on twitter is advertising an upcoming album. There is a real difference between music writing that can be described as criticism and writing that's a buying guide, but the buying guide side is all essentially advertising.

This isn't just me: Surveys of music buyers show that the most frequent reason that they don't buy a new album from a band they like is that they don't know it exists. There is real value in constructing a predictive model that would present and remind me of things I'm likely to want to buy. But the problem is that e.g. labels think everything they release is worth buying or they wouldn't release it. It's really rare for me to find a label where I can just pick up anything on them and be confident I'll enjoy it — that was part of the promise of indie labels that has been lost since "indie" got co-opted to mean guitars+feelings.

Being able to predict what I will want to buy is a hard problem — I'm not even great at it, and I nominally have access to more information about my preferences than any advertiser ever will. In theory, targeted advertising should help me avoid ads that are for things that I don't want to buy, but the models are too dumb to actually make that work. And, honestly, anyone who pretends that they aren't influenced at all by exposure to advertising is lying to themself. When I make an impulse buy of Doritos, it's definitely influenced more by e.g. in-store placement, but the influence of massive ad campaigns is still present. If the ad money was spent on reminding me that there was a new Pink Mountaintops album, I'd be happier.
posted by klangklangston at 3:03 PM on August 5, 2015 [1 favorite]


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