When too many people get too damn clever and they ruin it for everybody: advertising today.

Trigger warning: About advertising. I’m not going to be particularly creative this time and go for low-hanging fruit.

Disclaimer: I’m not an ad professional; I write code.

Advertising has gone absolutely bonkers.

Advertising is bloody annoying. I know I haven’t quite discovered anything new. Now, I fully understand why we need advertising. I even came by an old book scan which (gasp!) actually made a lot of sense.

The book’s first point was: advertising is important because it lets people know about what you sell.

Of course, we want to sell something. That’s why we go for ads. The problem started with an arms race — the one who buys advertising wants to pay less. The one who sells ads wants to be paid more. So the guy who displays the ad decides to pad their stats with fake clicks. But the client who wants their ad seen notices that the sales haven’t quite increased so naturally raises the clicks-per-dollar bar. This is pretty self-defeating and such “cleverness” has messed up advertising numbers pretty heavily.

But that’s just one thing. That old book, while unaware of the Internets, also raised other valid points: current ads often lack substance or try to mislead. Now, I don’t expect them to be works of art or anything, but the ad should give me an idea of what to expect. There’s a saying that movie trailers always lie. And obviously a lot of ads show happy people but that’s about it. Of course a fizzy drink won’t really have a lot to talk about. Nevertheless, a lot of ads focus on the flashy. I can’t pull one off the top of my head but they often don’t tell you what you need to know. Of course, you need to click and go to their website. But… eh, that is a little dubious. Clicks or “likes” don’t necessarily directly relate to sales. In fact, even a click when you immediately press “back” is registered as an ad click — and such clicks by mistake result in no sales and annoyance which makes the person who clicked less likely to think highly of the advertised thing.

And another thing: even in 1910s they pointed out that printing an ad for luxury goods in a “people’s” publication was silly, just like printing an ad for a mass-produced, cheap good in “elite” press. In fact, the book also warned that there are bound to be people who put advertising first and content second (hello, Internet!) to cash in quickly without providing you sales (remember the automated clicks two paragraphs ago? Hint: same thing, different technology). But dishonest ad networks aside, that’s important: targeting.

I’m actually kind of thankful to Google, even though they know too much about me by now, it has pleasant side effects: I don’t have to look at ads for, say, teenage crush concerts or albums. Because they know I like it when my music is not a fad piece of steaming crap. That stuff still pops up in the mainstream media, however, and other ad providers still might throw them at me.

Which is entirely wasted. I’m actually more likely to get baited into clicking on a security article or something relevant to my interests. Sadly, niche things such as 1/72 tank models lack the budget to throw these ads at me. Indeed, that is a problem — a lot of nice things aren’t quite advertised. It took a Kiwi to tell me about Armourfast models that fit my needs very well. And yeah, I have to import them from the UK. They got sales out of me without flashy ads, but I could’ve easily missed them — that’s why advertising could, in fact, help.

But my main complaint is how invasive ads have gotten. And then they have the gall to whine about ad blockers. Your crappy ad systems slow pages down so hard they’re uncomfortable to use. Your crappy ad systems are vulnerable to hackers who want to steal my credit card details. Your crappy ad systems are so ridiculously invasive they do the exact opposite of what they’re intended to do — they actually dissuade me from considering the product!

I’m a bit too lazy for ad blockers but it’s pretty stupid. Their stupid, flashy and invasive malware-infested ad is unlikely to get a sale in the first place because it is fundamentally flawed and it’s the exact reason why ad blockers exist. They don’t exist to screw with your revenue — they exist to ensure security from malware-infested ads and to block the annoying full-screen browser-blocking popups that refuse to go away. And hey, you’ve just lost a buyer

In fact, I have a bit of a policy that only one company is exempt from. If I see your ad on youtube, I will refuse to buy your products. And I actually went through with it — I eat way too much crisps but when the brand I buy the most popped up on youtube for me, I refused to buy them for a month. So on top of the ad expense they also lost something around a hundred US dollars in sales. Sure, not a whole lot on corporate or CEO pay level but they do rely on volumes of sales. It’s still the exact opposite of what they greedily expected.

The bottom line here is that advertising needs to take a step back and advertise smart. Google and Facebook have reasonably good advertising systems but they don’t quite filter the ads. I’ve seen ads for ripoffs of mainstream games and such, which is pretty sad. But that’s greedy people trying to sucker us in that ruin legitimate advertisments. And, obviously, since their products can’t quite stand on their own, their solution is more invasive ads.

Yeah, that’s pretty stupid. But they say “a sucker is born every minute”. Still, advertisers need to clean up their act before they whine about ad blockers. Ad blockers are, in fact, proof that advertising needs to sort its crap out. They exist because the way advertising is done nowadays is just plain wrong. Instead of being invasive and annoying, it needs to be targeted and enticing. A good-looking ad that has a legitimately good product behind it is going to help advertising business a lot more than flashy epillepsy-inducing pop-ups.

And obviously, before anyone ever mentions ad blockers being bad, advertisers need to guarantee that they are not advertising malware or that their ads are not intended to inject malware. There’s a lot that needs to change because I’d personally want to see ads that show me things I want and I don’t know about, rather than offensively invasive YOU WON A FREE IPOD scams.

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