Targeted Advertising Is Worse

Most people make a common and incorrect assumption when thinking about targeted advertising. They whine about how the tracking and data mining that would enable it hurts their privacy – and that’s a fair concern, really. But sometimes they go on to remark that “well, it’s not all bad, because targeted ads would definitely be better than irrelevant, distracting ones”. Uh, no. They’d be worse.

There are two main things we dislike about ads :

  • They try to make you buy shit you don’t need.
  • They are distracting. They try to grab your attention and steer it away from the content you’re currently viewing or the task you’re trying to accomplish.

Now consider what would happen if advertising was carefully targeted towards the interests, hobbies and vital stats (age, sex, location and so on) of each individual. Sounds good at first – there’d be no more idiotic offers to “enlarge your reproductive organ” if you’re female, no more dubious “speed up your computer” ads for people with a shred of common sense, etc. Instead, we’d see relevant and – dare we hope – interesting advertising.

And therein lays the rub. As humans, we’re very good at filtering out irrelevant and insignificant details. On a crowded street, we only notice the bypassers that are somehow unusual or out of place – weirdly dressed, very attractive, armed, or old friends from school.

The current state of advertising is somewhat like that street – there’s a myriad of people (ads), but only a few are interesting enough (or sufficiently obnoxious) to really catch your attention.

With individually targeted advertising, the street is just as crowded. The difference is that everybody is unusually good-looking, shares your interests, knows you intimately and (still) likes you. And all your highschool friends are there, too.

And they’re all trying to sell you something.

Targeted, relevant advertising will attract your attention more easily and you will waste more time viewing ads than you did before. Ads that promote things that you might actually like will be more effective at making you buy shit you don’t need (if this seems counterintuitive remember that like ≠ need). Also, better targeting will enable more effective consumer manipulation.

At least there are less armed robbers in the crowd, eh? 🙂

Related posts :

Leave a Reply