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Targeted advertising… am I missing something?

December 21, 2007

Ok, so targeted advertising, its the holy grail of how companies on the web are going to make their business cases work, right? There’s lots of cool technology out there, including APML <insert lots of relevant links here> that promise to do a fantastic job of capturing my interests so that I can easily move my “attention” from site to site, and not have to keep re-entering the books or subjects I am interested in, etc, etc.

One of the big supposed “selling points” of this kind of technology is that it would enable much more specific targeted advertising. “Wouldn’t it be nice,” the pundits say, “if advertisers could present relevant material that you would find interesting and compelling, rather than having to wade through ads that you’re not interested in.” Certainly from an advertiser’s perspective, this makes sense.

But from my perspective, I’m not so sure. Imagine if every web page you visited had an ad for some amazing, sophisticated (read: expensive and high margin) product that you just felt you absolutely had to have. And imagine that the marketers have enough insight into your interests, hopes, and dreams, that they can present you with a deliciously compelling pitch with every page.

Would that be a good thing?

I guess I kind of have a predator/prey model for advertising, where I’m the prey. The advertiser’s goal is to create a desire in me that I didn’t have before, and then meet that desire by selling me products or services. My goal (as prey) is to avoid those pitches so that I can conserve my cash for more important things — long term savings, important personal development/projects, educational opportunities for the kids, etc.

Maybe I just have some sort of unhealthy addiction around gadgetry and spending money. But when I get fixated on an electronic toy, musical instrument, etc, etc, it just creates the desire to buy one more damned thing that I really don’t need. What’s the line from Fight Club? “They’ve got us working at jobs we hate to earn money to buy things we don’t need.” It happens that I actually really like my job, but that’s not the point. 🙂

The holy grail of targeted advertising is the demonic ability to read my deepest subconscious desires and present me with temptations I can’t resist. I’m not sure I want to help that along. And I’m not sure I’d want to visit a site with the uncanny ability to make me want more every time I visited it. I might rather get presented with ads for rental car deals, credit recovery services, and dating agencies. That way I can ignore them at will, and get on with whatever the actual reason is for visiting the site.

But that’s just me. Maybe I’m weak.

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