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Ponderings

A little more on advertising

I’m going to eat dinner here in a bit, and then I’m going bike riding, but before I go I wanted to mention something AJ reminded me of in his comment to my previous post.

Psychographics is information about customers that is used to market to those customers things that they are specifically interested in. Giving a smoker a coupon to buy more cigarettes is an example of the most direct way to cash in on this sort of thing. You have the customer already; now it’s just a matter of persuading him to continue using your product.

(By the way, still quitting on your birthday, AJ?)

Another way to do this is to put similar items that a customer might be interested in the vicinity of an item you already know they are interested in. An excellent (and rather innovative) example of this is Google’s AdWords. Affiliate advertising on websites also tends to do this sort of thing. I’m sure this also happens in more traditional media, like television or newspapers, but to be honest I haven’t watched TV commercials or read a real newspaper in something like 10 years. (Go go Gadget VCR…)

I think my problem with traditional advertising is that it is static and passive and therefore obtrusive, out of place. Targeted advertising using psychographics is much better, assuming it’s done right, because it is at least relevant.

Many people have problems with targeted advertising because of how the targeting is done. Companies collect information from their customers, either through a direct poll or indirectly by watching what they purchase, what websites they go to, etc. Amazon.com’s website is fantastic at this. I’ve never seen another site that so perfectly advertises at every turn. Sure, they get a few things wrong, but in the long run I appreciate the “suggestions” their algorithms come up with for me. Not only do they track what I’m looking at and what I’ve bought, but they keep statistics across the board, to show me that since I like this thing a bunch of other people like, I may also like this other thing that people seem to like.

But of course, the issue for those concerned about privacy is the fact that tracking occurs at all. The idea that browsing habits might be stored somewhere and analyzed is terrifying to some, and others find it offensive that science be used to “target” them with popular products…it’s an affront to individuality and a nod to peer pressure.

Companies that use psychographics have to toe the line, making sure not to use the information they’ve gleaned for a sinister purpose while still cashing in on it.

I don’t really have a problem with my browsing habits being monitored. I’m not fearful that some big corporation is going to know my deepest, darkest secrets. Who cares if they know? (I doubt they even care.) And I certainly don’t think this sort of knowledge will enable them–or anyone else–to control me. Sway me with pleasant, similar items I could buy, maybe. But nothing that’s being done in terms of targeted advertising is denying me my freedom to choose for myself–as long, of course, that I can opt out of any mailings.

Amazon.com does do some annoying “fly overtop the content to get your attention” ads sometimes. I like targeted advertising, but I don’t like advertising that covers up what I’m trying to read. It’s worse than a popup ad because I can’t easily get rid of it. (Those ads on MSN are the worst–sometimes it takes several seconds to find the X, and sometimes there isn’t an X until the ad is over.)

The best sort of ad, I think, is the kind that is unobtrusive, relevant, and informative. I like Google AdWords because they meet these criteria. I do not, however, like it when people use AdWords (or something similar) without denoting them as ads. I don’t want to be tricked into thinking an advertisement is legitimate content.

In my ideal world, advertising would be just like any other Internet content: available when I want to look at it, avoidable when I don’t, and interesting to at least some of the people who come across it. Graphical ads on pages with mainly textual content would not exist. Ads would match their surroundings, fit in as part of the page. As far as mailings go, e- or otherwise, I would only receive mailings that I had chosen to receive, and I would be able to turn them off at any time.

Affiliate programs and AdWords are a step in the right direction. However, it’s difficult to implement these paradigms in traditional media. As the television and the computer grow into one creature, though, I expect that TV commercials will begin to change. We’ll just have to wait and see what they change into.