BrainTrust Query: Help! I’m Being Stalked By a Jam Band
Through a special arrangement, presented here for discussion is a summary of a current article from the Hanifin Loyalty blog.
I first noticed targeted online ads following me around the web about a year ago. If you know me, you know I’m a huge fan of the band Phish. One day as I was taking my usual morning journey through online news, it dawned on me that banner ads advising me of the band’s upcoming summer tour were actually following me around the web.
Phish ads cropped up on news websites as diverse as The New York Times, Slate, The Wall Street Journal and several more of my usual haunts. So here’s an advertisement, purportedly tailored to my interests as defined by my web browsing history, which Google had helpfully tracked for me. Pretty cool, right?
There’s only one problem: the Phish ad was actually irrelevant to me because I had already purchased tickets for the summer tour. That’s what Phish fans do. I’d venture that most of the consumers Google had identified as likely targets for the ad were serious ‘phans’ who had already spent their money. So for the band, the ad was money wasted preaching to the choir.
That’s the problem with spending money on targeted web advertising. All search engines know is what you’re interested in; they have no idea what you’ve done.
Now imagine an ad served to me based on my actual transaction history, rather than just my browsing habits. How much more relevant and valuable would such an ad be? "We know you just purchased tickets to Phish — did you know that My Morning Jacket is coming to your town this summer?"
Factor in my annoyance that at no point did I opt-in to this service, which provides useless ads that I didn’t ask for, and you’ve got a formula for an egregious waste of marketing dollars.
Might I humbly suggest Google look towards Amazon to see how the online retailer has improved its use of the collaborative filter? When introduced, it behaved similar to the Google ads of today, but over time has evolved to operate with more sophistication.
Don’t get me wrong: I respect Google’s right to make money for providing me access to their awesome search tools. I’d much rather be sold to advertisers than have to pay a monthly fee to search. But in this case the Phish ad hits the bad-marketing trifecta: it violates my privacy, it delivers no value, and it reeks of faux relevance.
Discussion Questions: What are the benefits and shortcomings of web targeted ads based on browser history? How, if at all, can search-engine driven ads become more relevant?