Thursday, June 13, 2013

Google and Facebook Ads - The Advertising Industry is a Joke

Ali Velshi, CNN's articulacy maestro, said not too long ago in response to people bitching about how many ads there are on Facebook and Google products that he couldn't see what all the fuss was about. Facebook is, after all, free. We don't pay for it so we have absolutely no right to complain about how it makes money.

If we want to pay, then we can bitch and moan as much as we want. Just block the ads out, he said, impatiently, adding that he's got so good at it he doesn't ever notice any ads on any web pages. Ever.

I wonder if any Facebook and Google execs were listening. Probably not. Probably too busy figuring out how to squeeze more info out of us so they can persuade themselves they're succeeding in persuading us they love us when they show ads on topics we seem to be interested in. I also wonder what sort of ads would show on my gmail if I was doing research into child porn or Hezbollah activity in Syria or gun sales in the US.

I think Ali's right that we're lucky to have so much for free, but I still hate ads. I recently found a magazine dating back to 1955. The ads were so innocent and non-intrusive. The psychology was simple, nothing massively manipulative. The pics were adorable. I doubt the advertising industry was very big back then.

Now it's a greedy monster that feeds on your children's minds and everybody's vulnerability.  But, for all the money spent on it and the degree to which it imposes on us, how effective is it really?

I'm sure at some point, when the industry was at its peak, it was 100% effective. Advertisers ruled the world, no doubt about it. Even now, often ads are gorgeous. Entertaining. Moving. There's one of two young kids in some Latin country. They're about ten years old. The boy's crazy about the girl. When she' bullied he rescues her and gets beaten up for it. But he doesn't care. He gets the girl. It steals your heart; beautifully scripted, acted and shot. I've watched it a gazillion times and I'll watch it willingly again and again. It's a really good short film.

But I can't for the life of me tell you what product it's supposed to be advertising, and I couldn't care less. When I come across an ad that I don't like I switch off. Either literally, or, like Ali, in my mind. I just block the son of a bitch out. So either way advertising doesn't work on me.

Somehow I doubt that Ali and I are alone in this, and I often wonder to what extent. And whether the advertising industry realizes it has saturated the world and is starting to eat itself up. More to the point, whether the clients paying for ads realize it. This industry has got so good at selling itself that everybody seems to have lost the plot and nobody is noticing that it lost its edge a long time ago. Case in point are the web page ads that have a lot of flash crap and moving bits. They're annoying, they interrupt your concentration. You're more likely to want to get rid of them - and the site - than to click on them.

They're probably fun to design, though. The ad industry doesn't serve its clients, it serves itself. Obviously web owners and Google and Facebook haven't figured that out yet. It amuses me no end to think that the latter go to such lengths to snag me into buying something. There's one tiny little factor they've left out of their algorithimic equations; I have a mind and I still use it. And they don't know how to read it.