October 24, 2012

Of Geeks And Sneaks

I don't like sneaky people.

And one of the things that bothers me about online advertising is the unprecedented degree of sneakiness.

In traditional advertising, there is usually no question about what an ad is or what it is intended to do. We are out to sell you something and there is rarely any doubt about our motives.

You may not like the idea that we are trying to sell you something, but there is no confusion about our purpose.

You know what an ad looks like, sounds like and smells like. You can choose to pay attention to it or not.

But online advertising is different.
  • Is a tweet really from a satisfied customer or is from an intern being paid to impersonate a customer?
  • Is an update really from a friend or is it "sponsored?"
  • Is a review from a real person? Or a real jerk trying to either pump up his own ratings or kill a competitor's?
  • Is a Google search result a true reflection of the best response or is it the result of someone having paid for a keyword? (Unsurprisingly, without the right hand column, almost 50% of people can not differentiate paid ads from organic search.)
  • Is "content" real or is it product propaganda?
  • What kind of "black ops" are online ad hustlers up to that we don't even know about?
The world of online advertising is replete with advertising disguised as something else, and media practices bordering on infringement of privacy.

Yes, traditional advertising is often annoying and witless. But it comes by its imperfections honestly. It does not pretend to be anything other than what it is.

Online advertising may not seem to be as tiresome or irritating. But, on the whole, it is considerably more insidious and disingenuous.


Tedel said...

...and maybe this could explain why it is less effective?

Anonymous said...

The Uncanny Valley of online advertising.

Geoff said...

In the "nothing new to see here" category, may I present the following?

Newspaper ads that look exactly like editorial except for a tiny "advertising" put above the headline.

"Editorial" content in Sunday home magazines about the latest tile (for example) advances, unclearly stated as being written by the manufacturer.

Press releases repurposed as magazine content without the public being told.

Movie and restaurant reviewers who are paid for positive reviews.

Paid product endorsements that aren't divulged, like a celebrity wearing a certain brand.

Paid product placements in movies and TV shows.

Sneaky behind-the-scenes purchasing of shelf space at retailers "forcing" you to buy the latest thing.

Abhishek said...

And yet, as George Sullivan put it, most people seem to have developed a finely tuned bullshit filter.

The second you see a user-submitted image of a brightly lit hotel room with fluffed pillows and a sparkling shitter on Tripadvisor, or a paean to the virtues of iron-fortified corn in what used to be Newsweek, you trudge along.

Of course, it doesn't help that most of us can't really produce a piece of advertising (sorry, content) that looks and sounds genuine. The word 'experience' often gives it all away.