27 January 2011

Hypertargeting and Augmented Reality

I ran across this video a few years ago, and hadn't thought about it much since. It's a sort of Brazil meets How to Get Ahead in Advertising meets Blade Runner meets 1984 affair (last link, standards-compliant browsers only).
Over the last week or so, however, I have been targeted relentlessly by a particular company through Google Ads to an extent I have never witnessed before. Despite knowing how it works, I have found it quite discomforting: even watching the video above I get an overlay ad from a company driven to distraction by the fact that I put something in a basket and then didn't complete (because their e-commerce system failed, ironically, and they still haven't told me how I can work round it).
Although I haven't been counting, it feels as if I must be seeing over 50 Google ads a day for this same company, ranging from simple ones advertising discounts to more explicit "YOU HAVEN'T COMPLETED YOUR TRANSACTION!" ads. I feel pursued, slightly harrassed and uncomfortably observed. I could probably avoid it by clearing cookies, or certainly by installing an ad blocker, but I've become morbidly fascinated to see how long it will continue, and whether the ads are going to become even more hysterical.
For me, the negative effect of this aggressive hypertargeting has been that I got so annoyed I went to see if I could buy the item in question elsewhere. In a further irony, I found it on Amazon, where the reviews were so uniformly negative that I decided against purchase. But the key point is that the company in question has moved from one I thought offered pretty good service to one I now feel reluctant to do business with.
An interesting question for me is whether the company's management has any idea how its Google ads are working. I suspect that if they did, they might turn them down a bit. I tried calling them to discuss, but am told by their call centre staff that it is company policy that no one in management ever accepts incoming calls (even from within the business, was the claim). This felt slightly at odds, to me, with a tweet a few days ago from their MD saying "We accept crap service in uk, we shouldn't!", but I guess there are different ways of defining service. Perhaps the company thinks I'll be happy to know how much they want my business.
Give it a couple more days and I expect I'll just install an ad blocker.

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Blogger Andrew Z said...

Behavior ads (as they are called) are creepy and annoying. My day job is analysis, and on the side I am an publishing making money with AdSense. I myself do not use ad blockers and do not recommend them because they are unfair to publishers (especially in how they hide their use), but I do recommend either clearing cookies or searching Google for "opt out behavioral ads"

Blogger njr said...

Thanks, Andrew. That's a useful pointer. As you can probably tell, I'm not wild about the idea of ad blockers either, for similar thought not identical reasons. In my case, it's not so much that I think it's unfair as that it makes it harder for people to put content out without charging. But we're not far apart here.

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