Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Scary advertising

The innocent product with the sinister ad
Every now and then someone asks me what I think about online advertising being targetted. (I don't know why they ask me, but they do.) You know the kind of thing. Instead of getting random ads, you are supposed to get ads for products that are more likely to interest you. So I might get book ads, or science-based stuff. I've always said I like the idea, and I do. In principle it should stop me seeing so much irrelevent stuff. But I've had two examples of doing this in a cack-handed fashion that make me wonder whether the technology can live up to the concept.

The first is those Facebook ads that are pseudo-targetted. The ones that claim to have a special offer only for people over {YOUR AGE-1}. I'm sorry, those are just pathetic. But the other kind is downright scary.

A couple of weeks ago I downloaded a trial copy of a program called iMindMap. I have a page on my creativity website dedicated to creativity software, and I hadn't mentioned this product, so I thought it was worth a go. As it happens it was one of the best I'd seen, so I updated the page accordingly, then let the trial software expire, thinking no more of it, as I already have mind mapping software I'm quite happy with.

Then the scary thing started. After my trial expired, about every fifth Google Ad I saw was a graphical banner for iMindMap. It could be a total coincidence, but a straw poll suggests other people haven't been getting this. It seems there is a mechanism to target me as a vaguely-interested-potential-customer. Now I find that a little scary. It's the advertising equivalent of stalking. I wouldn't mind if it had just popped up once or twice, as a vague reminder, but the constant repetition started to get wearing. It was like every time you turned a corner, there was the same strange person with an inane grin on their face. (It seems to have died down now after a couple of weeks.)

I really can't think of a better way to turn someone off a product. I did like iMindMap, and I suspect they don't know that this particular use of Google's Ads can be so scary - but it's not an option I would choose to encourage people to buy my product. So do feel free to take a look at iMindMap... but don't buy yourself this kind of advertising for your own products. Please.


  1. Sounds like re-targeting of some kind.

    There's a trend recently of far too many retailers starting re-targeting programs without understanding it's role.

    Many don't care because on paper the returns attributed to re-targeting ads outweigh any concerns and they don't care about any ad impression wastage because they are only paying for the ads on a cost per click or cost per acquisition model.

  2. Thanks, Fletch. I can see they might not think through how it feels (though I'm don't know how much information they are given about how insistant it is).

    Similarly I always wonder about people who schedule the same TV ad every half hour all evening - don't they realize they will irritate people who see it over and over again?