Give me an Ad hold the onions

Ads. I thought we all hated them! Sure every now and then a fun, funny, or cool commercial will come along, but the repetition of commercials quickly cures us. Ads these days aren’t what they used to be though! We’re past the good days of one size fits all. We live in times of custom everything. And a few of us have even started enjoying ads!

Traditional Ads

For years, Ads have been relatively generic. Ad producers had to think of ways to interest as many people as possible with every ad they made. Sure, there were opportunities of tuning ads to audiences according to Ad locations and situations, but they were limited to making generalizations about audiences and what could convince them to but a product, visit a location, try a service, etc.

The Bad

Traditional ads tend to target large audiences. This has several consequences. One is that Ads need to appeal to a large percentage of the audience. This generally implies significant costs in developing the ads. Research must be done to understand interests and trends within the audience. Professionals need to be contracted to produce quality material. Proctor & Gamble is currently the company that spends most, at an astounding $4.9 billion, according to this page.

Another consequence is that Ads need to reach this large audience. Since traditional Ads are static, this means occupying significant real estate in whatever medium the Ad is designed for, such large physical spaces for Billboards, mass printed handouts, or significant air time such as 30 seconds on HBO. Limited real estate translates to expensive real estate.

The expense of Ads also has secondary consequences. Ads, expensive both financially and in time, end up sticking around for a long time. This results in audience boredom. People zone out and completely ignore or stop noticing Ads, making them less effective. The long term effect of this is the hate of Ads in general.

The GoodGiant Peanuts Elephant Heimlich maneuver

A positive consequence of expensive research and professional development in traditional Ads is that every now and then, entertaining or otherwise appealing Ads arise. The generalization of audiences and analysis of aggregate information also allows Ads to appeal to people without requiring direct analysis of specific persons. Aggregate information has been gathered for years, via methods such as Neilsen ratings on radio and television. There is an interesting and somewhat counter-intuitive resistance in television to modern ads, which you can read about here.

Modern Ads

With the birth of the internet and the advances of technology, doors have opened for all sorts of interesting possibilities. One of these includes an attempt to make ads smarter by being customized for people. At first glance, this sounds good, and many people enjoy them. I would prefer the non-relevant ads.

The Good

As Ads currently drive much of online business, allowing for rich content on the internet without requiring people to sell products or memberships, we are likely not going to get rid of them anytime soon. If we have to deal with ads, shouldn’t they at least be relevant? Probably anyone would agree that its nicer to see something you’re interested in than something you don’t care about, or that you may even be against. I would prefer to see ads about recent development books or strategy games than about the latest barbie figurines.

In fact, modern ads have the possibility of helping your hobbies and careers, by helping you stay up to date with the latest and greatest. They can help you save money by pointing you toward discounts on things you’ve browsed or bought. And one day, probably very soon, they even will likely even show you what you don’t know you need, such as more milk or eggs. They may even help you know what a good gift is for your wife or kids.

The Bad

My complaints about modern ads are not about the great relevant things they bring me. My online experience is somewhat better now, and the potential is only starting to be realized. My problem is with the technology and techniques used to offer this great service.

Modern ads are basically achieved by watching everything that you do. This mostly happens when you visit websites with technology, such as javascript, included specifically to track you, but can also include your searching behavior. In some cases, even your location can be used via your phone and IP addresses. In fact, using these techniques, you could argue that companies like google now know more about you than yourself. For example, for those who always have their phone on them, companies can figure out that you go to the bathroom every night between 2 and 3 AM. They can even figure out that you end up going to the bathroom every night after you eat Chinese food; something you may not even realize yourself.

My issue with this is that it all seems creepy and invasive. It can even be dangerous. Should this information get in the wrong hands, people can use this information to engineer all sorts of tricks to steal from you or do some other harm to you. As often highlighted in the news in the form of leaked passwords and hacked servers and services, it is evident that security and privacy is lagging behind (and often completely ignored) the advances in machine learning and other technologies used to learn about your interests and generate profits from the information.


Personalized ads are often far more effective than generic ads, as they can directly take in to account your interests and needs. Unfortunately, the methods to accomplish this are invasive. Most people are completely unaware of exactly how personalized ads are accomplished. To make it worse, companies are not asking for permission to track you, and often go to extreme efforts to make it nearly impossible for you to avoid their tracking capabilities. For this reason, personalized ads make me uneasy.

With that said, I include Ads on my own sites and blogs. You know what they say: If you can’t beat them, join them.

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