Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Your Dystopia Is Now

Here's your off-topic rant of the week. This time, it's nearly free of politics!

When I'm not wallowing in blogger bucks, I make my bread in online advertising, and have for this whole damn century. (Translation: I'm 150 years old.) During that time, I've seen, and occasionally done, dumb things. It's what direct marketers do. Innovate, execute, test, lather, rinse, repeat. I love what I do.

What I can complain about, however, is how it's perceived. And that's as follows: we're all unethical greedheads who want to rule the world (muhahahahee! Standards, as Doctor Horrible would say) with our creepy crawly methods that allow us to cyberstalk you (Yes, YOU) into an Orwellian dystopia.

Now, rolling this back for a brief moment into sports... let's imagine, for a moment, that you do what I do (advertising, that is, and not that other, profoundly disturbing, thing), and you have advertise an at-home beer making product. (Insert a Homer Simpson noise here.)

You think you want to reach me, in that I'm a Guy With A House In A Decent Zip Code Of A Certain Age And Income Who Entertains, because my demographic indexes are off the charts to match the kinds of people who buy your stuff.

You might, if you had the means, cold-call me at home, fill my mailbox with flyers, and buy time on my television set, perhaps during NFL football games. You could easily spend your entire marketing budget to try to reach me and others like me.

Except for one tiny little problem.

I don't like the taste of beer very much, so I drink other stuff. So I'm never going to buy your product.

The problem is that cyberstalking doesn't actually work. It rankles and distracts, rather than creating a positive experience for your mind to associate with the product that's trying to be sold. (You can and should create a different message to audiences that are targeted, but that's a whole 'nother story.)

However, if you can simply show your ads to an audience base where all of the non-buyers have been screened out, um, that works. Like gangbusters.

Now, step back from that hypothetical and think, for just a moment, about the stuff that you see ads for. I'm betting that most of the people reading this can recite several tampon manufacturers, despite not having the plumbing to ever purchase that product. Others that can't really imagine themselves taking penis pills can also rattle off several brands. Still more that wouldn't ever take a cruise vacation. Or drive a Hummer, even if gas wasn't $5 a gallon.

Non-targeted, irrelevant, annoying and pointless advertising makes up so much of what we see, we spend money to avoid it (DVRs), keep ourselves out of phone books, change land lines to cell phones, maintain multiple e-mail addresses, and use Internet browsers that block and filter and focus to try to keep our minds on relevant tracks.

Meanwhile, the advertising that drives a lot of the economy (for good or ill) get increasingly "out of the box" to try to reach us anyway, with stunt PR stuff, content that's much more about how clever the ad is than any reason why you'd actually buy the product, and increasingly obvious and noxious product placement moves during content.

Oh, and they also bring more of all of that, because when something doesn't work as well as it used to, you have to do more of it. (And we're back to the penis pills.)

So when a company -- someone you haven't heard of before, because their business model is a business to business play, rather than a business to consumer one -- tries to put together the pieces that would make advertising more relevant, that's somehow Going Too Far.

The idea that my clickstream or my past keyword searches could be used not to make the current dystopia even worse, but to actually find a way to fix an increasingly inefficient and broken system... well, dear God in heaven, that's something we can't have.

That's a "Minority Report" intrusion on our precious, precious privacy (the sames ones, by the way, that we're more than willing to toss into a dumpster when the fear media tells us to, but that's another story).

And that is, not to put too fine a point on it, bullshit.

What we live in, in regards to the current amount of ads that we see, is not sustainable. And things that are not sustainable have a way of changing. Maybe with great grumbling and heartache, and maybe with less than you'd imagine. But the change comes anyway.

Oh, and one final thing... everything that an overly paranoid consumer would find objectionable from a behaviorally marketing company is already being done, but not by people who are straightforward enough to admit it's their core business.

(Who? Um, the companies who use register tape information at the supermarkets, data from car toll transponders, GPS and DVR providers, and Google, who also accesses e-mails, blog posts and much, much more. Google, by the way, hosts this site. Here's hoping that I didn't just get on their deny service list again...)


The Truth said...

Amen. People need to get out of the way of innovation. Of course standards need to be set. Not by Congress, but rather by the industry experts. Personalization of ALL content, including ads, in a huge benefit to consumers, companies and the economy as a whole. I want my internet experience to show me content I'm interested in and the ads I'm going to see anyway - relevant to my interests. On TV - I'd love for my Tivo/DVR to alert me to things it has learned I enjoy. I love that Dominoes knows who I am when I call, asks me if I want what I ordered last time, or recommends a sale they have going on a previous pie I ordered. This is positive, not negative. I yearn for more personalization in all aspects of my everyday life.

Wait, isn't this a sports blog?

DMtShooter said...

Yes, it's a sports blog, but Dumb Things and Dumber People Make Shooter Something Something...

and it's better for me to post than go back up to the clock tower, y'know?

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