Have you ever clicked a link from Facebook and been served a page with so much advertising content on it that by the time it’s loaded you’ve actually forgotten the reason why you are on the page? Or perhaps you have tried to read an online edition from one of the UK’s most popular broadsheets? In fact it does not really matter where you go, the typical user-publisher experience can be summed up in the following words: “for fuck’s sake please click on this advert” (FFSPCOTA). The Digital Savvy managers of many leading publishing organizations are leveraging things like Domain Authority and other shortfalls in Goog’s ranking algo to ensure that the thinnest, most tenuous pieces of online content are being produced to simply capture website visitors in an attempt to try and get people to FFSPCOTA. As if you needed further proof, check out the cookie directive from the EU. The whole industry up in arms about how this would be a bad thing, how it was going to be complicated etc. etc. In a nutshell the policy could be summed up like this “Explain the shit you (the publisher/advertiser) collects, and do so in a language that makes sense, if someone doesn’t like it, let them opt-out”. Does that sound so bad to you? To me it sounds pretty reasonable. However, it’s a complete nightmare for those companies that are selling ad-space and guess who has the biggest voice online? The companies selling ad-space (in some cases they actually control the information too!).

Google, allegedly one of the world’s most respectful organization for things like copyright control, data scraping and generally requiring the delimiting of your entire business for free traffic in return for webmasters having to pay for their content to be served back to them (or thereabouts) in some kind of product, has also been worrying itself into a frenzy and we’ve seen new ad-sense mobile only ad-formats (which will not count towards your ad-block quota per page: read more crap in the faces of people), plus a brand new product (customer match) where companies can upload their email marketing list (with the biggest online advertising company on the planet) to then serve yet more ads to your most trusted customers. This product of course overlooks the fact that if you as a company own an email address and have properly profiled your newsletter subscribers, and listen to what they want, then the last thing they (your customers) want you to do is put more of your crap in their faces. Instead they are quite happy to receive your newsletter which they signed up for in the first place. But don’t take my word for it, trust your instinct too or hop over to Google church.

Facebook and other tech companies are also struggling to find a footing in Europe after being told that it’s not quite okay (English understatement) to ship EU citizen data outside of the EU and to then grant access to US authorities to take a look. That’s doubly painful because I believe that it was precisely the data flow from the EU that allowed the US evesdrop on it’s citizens once upon a time. While in the pet world they say “a dog is for life not just for Christmas” in Facebook’s own closed network email addresses are so yesterday, who needs an email address when a FB customer ID is for life.

Over in the UK a recent fining of Pharmacy2U by the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), regarding the sale of 20,000 customers details returned a fine of £130,000 (with a discount of 20% for a quick payment) pretty much brings all this together and where I want to take this post.

The ICO office that looks after the interests of UK citizens for their privacy determined that it would be appropriate to place a value of £6.50 (£5.20 if paid quickly) for each information record per customer. That figure pretty much sums up just how little is understood about the commercial value that behaviourally gathered information can have for companies (in this broken digital marketplace). It’s only when reading rare posts (or listening to even rarer podcasts) about the games you and I download on our phone that you start to understand just how much is happening behind the scenes, and then being piped up the network to some all-knowing sentient network that simply attempts to fob off this data as valuable to someone that is prepared to pay for it (go and see how effective that data is and what happens when you use an Adwords ‘affinity list’ developed by Google from tracking people across its network of products from YouTube to Gmail. Watch your AdWords conversion rates fall off the earth, and your budgets exhausted as your attempts at Keynesian economics fail).

The thing is this, people don’t mind watching adverts; look at TV, and actually in some cases they can be really fun to watch. Think of SuperBowl ads as a case in point. The problem is that online, unlike TV, it’s not just face value experience; instead your exposure to an ad turns into a data-set which is then flogged to the highest bidder under the auspices that this person is bang-on target.

The reality of online surfing is that most of the time we human beings are completely irrational in how or what we look for in a day online, and in some cases we just have kids – I have often wondered how the commercial value of my profile has been infected by all the programmes my two watch on YouTube or on download via GooglePlay and how somewhere in the world, my profile is being aggregated into a list and resold as “highly targeted”. I’d like to tell the advertiser that purchased it that it isn’t!

It’s been said often in online advertising that we are in a race to the bottom, and that it can only get worse. On worse, I think we’re pretty much there already. Online experiences are becoming so utterly infected with advertising that, as history shows, at a certain point human’s just sit up and say enough is enough. Hello ad-blockers.

What Next

I don’t know how to get to the next point in advertising in a step by step approach, but I do know that it considers people’s personal information to be precious and to be valuable and for there to be a partnership in terms of what you give up. Whether you give a company your information and they then cut you a share of what they make off your profile, or they give you some other form of kickback, then that could be a reality, but as the market is showing people place no value on current advertising practice.

On the other side of the fence, advertisers can’t pretend that their product is right for absolutely everyone; the advertising networks need to somehow ensure that there is compatibility between the product and the target segment that is being marketed too, otherwise we’re back to square one!

Appendix 1 [ how many trackers the Guardian is using]
Appendix 2 [how many trackers the Daily Telegraph is using]
Appendix 3 [Signs of desperation?: translation: grow your business with Adwords Italia, start with a free €75 coupon]


Author Information
Glyn S. H. has been online marketing since 1999 and has developed campaigns for leading luxury brands that have included Nestlè and Interflora . He works primarily in for the Travel and Tourism sector, helping hotels beat-down OTA paychecks. He has a web-marketing company, a Masters in Professional Communication, speaks fluent Italian, and is married with two kids. He also has a good sense of humour – essential for survival in web-marketing. He is not employed by Google. To contact via email: glyn@ (this domain).