The other day I surfed a car company’s website. Then I bought a car from that company. Nice and neat. I’m happy. They’re happy.
Ever since then, however, everywhere I go on the web, I am getting served up ads from that very company for that very car. The one I already bought. Whataminute. What?
I think it is safe to say I am the last person who is likely to buy that car in the short term. Because, you see, there is a shiny new one in my garage. I am out of the market for a couple years. I am the worst person to see car ads.
Seeing ads for that car, every single day, on every site I visit, well… that pretty much sucks. It is a waste of my time and a waste of effort for whomever is vying for my attention. It makes me sad for humanity. It makes me sad for technology.
It makes me think our technology sucks. It makes me think the people who make and run our technology suck.
So how did we get to this level of suckification?
Before the internet, advertising sucked. It looked like this:
HEY YOU! STEP RIGHT UP! YA WANNA BE SEXY AND HANDY WITH THE LADIES? YA WANNA BE A BETTER MOM WHO IS THE ENVY OF ALL THE OTHER MOMS? YA WANNA ENSURE THE UNDYING LOVE OF YOUR WIFE, OR YOUR KIDS, OR YOUR PET? THEN FOR THE LOVE OF GOD RUN DO NOT WALK TO YOUR NEAREST STORE AND BUY OUR PRODUCT! IN FACT, BUY TWO! THEN YOUR LIFE WILL BE WORTH SOMETHING, YA MISERABLE DIPHTHONG. YOU DON’T WANT TO BE A MISERABLE DIPHTHONG, DO YOU? DO YOU!? THEN BUY OUR PRODUCT. NOW BACK TO OUR SHOW.
Advertising yelled at us. Often to the tune of a catchy jingle.
Throughout history, advertising sucked. But it was a necessary evil. TV and radio were free, after all. And magazines and newspapers were cheaper than they would have been without the ads.
Even though we knew that sucky advertising was the price we paid for relatively free entertainment, we resented it. When we saw advertising, we largely ignored it. We took steps to avoid it. When advertising came on, we changed channels. We got up to go to the bathroom. We turned the page.
Then the timeshifting VCR came along – the progenitor to today’s DVRs. Finally, we could record our entertainment and we could zap through the commercials. It felt liberating, and also a little naughty. Look at me, I’m getting my entertainment for free! Hee hee hee! I no longer have to get up and go to the bathroom for 8 minutes out of every half hour to avoid commercials. Ain’t I wicked?
Then the internet came along. And it was commerce free. For about 5 minutes. Enter SPAM. Enter the banner ad. Whoopdedoo. Same shit, different medium. No one clicked. Banner ads have always sucked and always will. SPAM is the spawn of Satan.
Then the gospel of inbound marketing and social media and click monitoring promised advertising that is relevant. Commercials that are tuned to our needs and wants. No more yelling. No more jingles. Just conversations. Just sellers listening to consumers and offering up really cogent products in response.
Just some really prescient content magically presenting the opportunity to buy stuff we want at just exactly the moment we realize we want it! Yay!
Except, not so much.
Today, advertising sucks worse than ever! This, despite the fact that our entertainment consumption is subject to constant monitoring. By merely using the internet we give birth to an endless stream of data regarded as presumptively competent to inform an accurate profile of who we are and what we want to buy. So now our entertainment (and our news and, indeed, our shopping) comes inescapably inter-braided with the Orwellian monitoring and the cookies and the analytics and the stupendously invasive observation of every click and query.
Our internet behavior, our very attention, is monitored, analyzed, aggregated, filtered, and studied. Then, it is regurgitated to advertisers with the expectation that they will use it to herniate up to us extremely relevant ads presenting the opportunity to buy products we want. About this, the average person feels theoretically annoyed, utterly helpless, and ultimately complacent. We kinda like the promise of giving up a little privacy in exchange for a little more relevance in our advertising.
We’ll lift our skirts for advertising that doesn’t suck.
Problem is, we’re giving up the data, but we’re not getting the payback. They are supposed to be delivering advertising that doesn’t suck. No more yelling. No more jingles. Right?
But they’re not. Advertising sucks more than ever.
Just look at my yahoo email home page. The most popular ad there? A dating site for women over 50. With all due respect, I am in the absolute last quartile of the population likely to visit such a site. I am getting married next month. My fiancee just turned 27. Not to be a colossal dick, but serving up ads for a 50+ dating site to me is an utterly symphonic waste of time.
They’re watching me. But they’re not knowing me.
Internet ads have barely elevated above the carnival midway barker who knows a mark when he sees one:
I SEE YOU’RE INTERESTED IN THE CUPIE DOLL, MY FRIEND. PLEASE COME BUY ONE OVER HERE! STEP RIGHT UP!
So, the internet ad machine gods are clearly stupid and out of touch. Therefore, I shall presume to advise them as to how to kindle the desuckification of their trade:
1. Stop serving up ads for things I have shopped for. They suck. They are creepy and hamfisted and insulting. At least figure out when I’ve already bought the thing thereby rendering myself a catastrophically useless target. Find some other way to figure out what I want to buy. Use collaborative filtering or something. Be more subtle. Be more graceful! Stop treating me like a sailor on leave in Bangkok. “Sucky sucky?” Yes, internet advertising, bigtime sucky sucky.
2. Deploy a captivating hook. Don’t repurpose your 30-second TV ads to run as Youtube bumpers, ya lazy frigtards. Your whole job is about catching my attention. If you don’t want me to skip your Youtube ad and skip to the sweetmeat the very microsecond I am presented with the opportunity to do so, you could at least make an effort to lure and seduce me into your world in those first precious 5 seconds. Anything less is insulting. It sucks. Repurposing your TV content for Youtube is lazy and unkind. I shake my head in disgust at you. You suck.
3. Let me zap you. Do not force me to watch a sucky ad without letting me skip it after a few seconds. That sucks. It makes me hate you and your sucky product for stealing 30 seconds of my life. I will never buy your product. You suck.
4. Don’t be sneaky. Do not under any circumstances whatsoever autoplay any audio unexpectedly in the middle of my browsing unless I have affirmatively clicked a “play” button at some point. I will hate you forever and I will never buy your product. Autoplaying audio is the moral equivalent of sneaking into my house late at night and leaving your heartfelt mixtape playing in my stereo with the volume turned up. It creeps me out and it sucks and your mixtape sucks and you suck, ya diphthong.
5. Let me grade your ads. Don’t you want to know if I hate your ads with any precision greater than the fact that I didn’t click on them? Maybe give me an option to right-click on your ad and rate its relevance to me personally. I might just do that work for you. Then, you’ll know, y’know? Then you won’t suck. (There’s a startup in this. Or a PhD thesis. Probably both. I’d invest in the startup.)
Please! Internet people. Make an effort. Desuckify your ads.