Signal to Noise

Michael sent along the above screengrab, showing an all-too-familiar sight. A news story with a hee-lariously inappropriate ad placed automatically alongside. Computers are as dumb as we make them. Software looks for matches and places ads “in context” – i.e., if there’s a conversation about Olive Garden, let’s advertise to those people. There’s not enough smarts in place, currently, to find out, say, if this is bad news about Olive Garden. This ad is 180-degrees from the content. Olive Garden sickens people, well, have this coupon ON US, and come on in for some delicious food!

We’ve been laughing at these for years and years and we can stop there, or we can marvel at the fact that this is tolerable to organizations who advertise. Is this a direct-mail mentality? We’ll serve up 3 Million Impressions of the banner ad, and if 10% of them are an inappropriate, so be it, because the click-through rate is so low, it hardly matters? I don’t know what the numbers are on so-called junk mail (as you can imagine, they don’t like call us to call it that), but let’s assume they are very very low. When most of what you send out is seen as garbage, is it okay if some percentage of it actually is garbage? Could this be doing more harm for these brands than good?

The fact that this has become the norm is just a little bit sad. Those of us who design things of any type – to be experienced, seen, heard, read…we want them to be experienced in some relevant context, but we’ve accepted this as a normal error for computers blindly filling in blanks and matching X to B. I’d suggest our culture loses a little when this happens; that we have been bludgeoned just enough to tolerate quack-speak through the medium of the Internet.

We’ll see if firms like Aggregate Knowledge (with some presumably new perspectives on where the most relevant – and profitable – connections can be made) can evolve the status quo.


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