Online Advertising is Broken

on October 30, 2015

Technology is letting us down. After all, isn’t it supposed to serve us ads on our phones, tablets, and computers that make us want to buy more? Isn’t it supposed to show us ads selected for us based on our activities on the internet and the information it learns about us? But, most importantly, it’s supposed to predict what we might want to buy next and offer us some suggestions for these products and services. From all I observe and experience, it does a terrible job, even while it intrudes into our privacy.

If I click on an item or buy a product, it never lets me forget. On site after site, that same item pops up, based on the assumption that the more impressions the better. That may be true with TV or newspaper ads, but for most of us, it’s the opposite with internet ads.

Repetition is one of the reasons online advertising drives us crazy. A word or two to the wise should be sufficient. But seeing the same Harry’s Razor ad for weeks and months after purchasing one does not endear me to the company.

In fact, I almost stopped buying blades from them because the ads were so incessant and I became sick of seeing them on every one of my devices. I even tried clicking on the option to tell the ad delivery company it was too repetitive, but to no avail.

A while back, I clicked on an ad that promised a free pair of boxer shorts. Turns out, it wasn’t free and I ignored the ad. But now, six months later, how embarrassing to see boxer shorts plastered all over my computer screen!

What the online advertising industry forgets is too many “in your face” ads can create animosity and turn off potential customers. I pay almost $30 per month for online access to the New York Times yet often when I navigate to their site, up pops up an ad right over the top right corner of the front page, where I often go to click on an opinion piece, preventing me from accessing what I paid for.

Do the editors of the New York Times really think I’m going to pause to read this ad before reading the column? Of course not. I’ll look for the X to terminate the ad, if it can be found.

Advertisers know this and now think nothing of moving the X around or hiding it to make the ad more difficult to escape. Trying to outsmart me does nothing to endear me to these websites. It only suceeds in causing me to avoid them. I’m not interested in playing a video game called “Find the X before reading”.

Then there are some ads that say it will take you to the site you were heading for in 15 seconds. Just wait (and watch our ad). I can’t fathom how this behavior sells products. We need to bring in some psychologists to explain to the ad makers about what make ads more appealing and useful. It’s certainly not erecting obstacles to our efforts to work efficiently and to get things done.

But complaining is easy, so here are some ideas to try to address these problems.

• Allow us to read an ad later, just like in a newspaper. Some of us actually like newspaper ads, but would read them between reading articles, not during or not if we are heading to a story we want to read. If we see an ad of interest, let us be able to click on it to read it later. Have a browser tab accumulate links to these ads. In fact, ad sellers could access the list of ads we defer for later viewing and do a better job of figuring out what our interests are without invading our privacy.

• Do not repeat the same ads so often. If we don’t click on it after a few times or after a few days, let it go. You have our answer.

• Do a better job associating products to other products we might like. If we click on a watch ad, show us ads for pens, since those who like one often like other. Don’t keep showing us ads for the same or similar items.

• Avoid ads that contain a lot of content and slow things down. The increased number of ads with video and high-res images are depleting our smartphone batteries and using up our data allowances. Using up these scarce resources for advertising is just like sending junk faxes that use up our printer ink.

Actually, what I’d really like is the ability to go onto an ad free internet where I would pay a couple of hundred dollars a year to avoid all advertising. Would you and millions of others be willing to do this as well?

The advertising industry had better make changes. Clearly, the algorithms they are using are primitive and exhibit poor psychological intelligence. Ads should attract and intrigue customers, not annoy them. If they don’t get this fixed, we’ll all start using blocking software to opt out of these ads entirely.