What are you doing Dave?

The arrival of scary smart ads.

Jul 23, 2015 · 3 min read

by Rich Sullivan, Red Square / RSQ

HAL 9000.

Most people don’t like advertising. That’s because most advertising is interruptive, shouts at you, doesn’t feature a product you’d buy and generally treats you like an idiot. A lot of it is ugly and poorly written.

So it’s basically garbage.

This is why well-placed and well-crafted advertising stands apart. This is why you loved the Nike ads in the ’80s, or the ESPN ads of the ’90s. They were smart. And they respected the fact that you are intelligent. You loved these brands for it. You purchased more than one pair of Nikes.

These are the kinds of ads that got me into advertising in the first place. “I wonder if I could do smart advertising that people will love.”

Today, not only does craft (smart strategy and skillful execution) continue to separate great advertising from the multitude of junk out there, but rapid advances in technology are making advertising appreciably smarter.

Not just smart as in “hey, that was a clever ad, I like that,” but “what are you doing Dave,” HAL 9000 kind of smart.

Way back in the day, Google had a eureka moment when it decided ads should be served based on relevancy rather than how much the advertiser was willing to pay — upending a model that has defined media placement since the dawn of time. Instead, it began serving advertising based on relevance to the audience. Obviously driven by user experience, this choice also proved to be the beginning of a very profitable enterprise.


And thus began a renaissance in advertising intelligence. We now live in a world where a brand can deliver well-crafted messages to a hyper-targeted audience that will find its message completely relevant and timely. Pretty smart.

That’s an oversimplification of the dynamics at play — suffice to say, we are making quantum leaps in advertising technology today.

However, something caught my attention a few days ago. I read an article about Apple winning a patent on technology that would allow advertisers to serve ads to its mobile devices according to audience income level and credit card balances. Put very simply, this could mean that you only receive ads for products that you can afford.

Apple’s Patent: yet another example of how the nerds are #winning.

I have mixed feelings about this idea. At first, it sounds virtuous: “Now we can quit peddling things people don’t want and can’t afford.” The ultimate relevance. Then I thought about it, and it seems like an awful idea that will lead to a dystopian future where I can only buy the cheap paper towels.

In Apple’s defense, the company patents things all the time and never does anything with them. So we’ll see.

But I admit, I’m torn. Smarter advertising is undoubtedly good (more efficient and effective) for advertisers and consumers. But advertising that does the thinking for people teeters into the Orwellian in my opinion.

What do you think? Email me if you want to discuss: rich@rsq.com or you can silently stalk us at http://rsq.com


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Long live advertising.

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