A Note About The Escalation of Advertising

Facebook is set to roll out auto-playing video ads (though silent until clicked) this week and the internet has responded with a flurry of how-to articles on how to turn off auto-play.

It seems fair. As if this was a game that Facebook plays with us users: they’ll think up of some new ad format and we’ll think up of a way to disable or to avoid it. But this game masks a more difficult issue: why does advertising require more intrusive ways to get us to pay attention?

Let’s focus on the web. When do we click ads? When they’re relevant. But what is relevant? If we ignore the user history then…

Google thinks that relevant ads are those that match what you are currently searching for.

Billboards: In-your-face advertising that no one knows if it works.

Billboards: In-your-face advertising with unclear effectiveness.

Content/news sites think that relevant ads are those related to the content you’re seeing on the page.

Facebook thinks that relevant ads are those that match your likes and what your social circle like.

Now, how are ads, text and display working in the above three sites?

Google has placed textual ads alongside, above and below search results and has done that for years with only minor tweaks. They’ve placed pre-roll ads before videos on YouTube which haven’t changed for a while either.

Content sites started with display and text ads alongside the content but they’ve moved on to interstitials, pop-unders and pop-overs to get our attention.

Facebook has placed display ads alongside the news feed and then in the news feed and has now upped the ante to auto-play video ads in the news feed.

My point is that there’s an escalation in intrusiveness but it seems that the problem is actually not in the visibility of the ads but rather in their relevance. If relevance doesn’t improve, Facebook can play us ads with video and sound all day and we still won’t click.

Now, if only I had some hard data to back up my theories…



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