Direct advertising

What is it?

A form of advertising pioneered by the likes of Google and Facebook that tailors adverts to users. Rather than broadcasting an advert to millions of mostly disinterested users, direct advertising limits the broadcast to the advertised product’s demographic, reaching fewer but potentially more interested users.

Google is a blunt tool for such tailoring, utilising users’ recent search patterns to make a rough guess at where they live and what they do. Spend a bit of time searching for used cars online and you’ll probably find that Google starts offering up various car sales sites in its Ads column. Facebook in contrast is like a surgeon’s scalpel, garnering its user information from the people who know best: the users themselves. Facebook offers you an advert for a wedding dress store in Armadale because you told it you live in Melbourne and you just updated your status to engaged.

What do we think?

We are intrigued by the concept of direct advertising, but remain torn between strong scepticism and grudging acceptance.

We’re sceptical because Facebook and its ilk sell (and profit from) direct advertising space by utilising information entered into what many people think of as the “public realm” of the internet. It just goes to show how misguided we all are – Facebook is not the digital equivalent of a town square but a shopping mall, where every square centimetre is owned and where the security guards can kick us out if they think we’re loitering without intention to buy – the infrastructure of the internet may be modelled on a free and open city, but its buildings are private property. Facebook argue that they gather only crowd statistics rather than specific information on individuals, but all this nevertheless reeks strongly of a slippery slope heading straight for a direct invasion of privacy: we accept crowd statistics today and we’ll find our most intimate information being sold to the highest bidder tomorrow.

Our further concern is the recent evolution of direct advertising into user-endorsed advertising i.e. the broadcasting of advertised products “liked” by a user to all of his / her friends. According to Mark Zuckerberg in Time‘s recent, extensive and excellent article on him as the 2010 Time Person of the Year, this is a positive development. After all, we are intensely social creatures and thus place a far higher value on what 3 of our friends think about a product than 1,000,000 strangers. But we’re not sure we really want to become unpaid advertising whores for the world’s products.

On the other hand, like it or not, the world is chockerblock full of products with which we engage on a daily basis. Our vocabulary is full of trademarked, copyrighted and registered terms: energy drinks after exercise have been replaced by Gatorade™; our phones have been upgraded to iPhones™; and surfing the internet is a thing of the past, now we Google™ it. Without even realising it, we are already advertising whores every time we open our mouths. Even here at Panfilocastaldi we can’t escape this reality – check out our Sublimely Utilitarian articles here and here.

So we may be fundamentally queasy about direct and user-endorsed advertising, but we can’t deny its inevitability. Perhaps telling our friends on Facebook that we like Coon Tasty™ is really no different from telling our friends at a dinner party that we like cheese.

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