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Op-Ed: …And the award for lousy unproductive online advertising goes to… Everybody

Online advertising has now reached a point of utter mediocrity nobody ever expected.

Social media operators face a conundrum dealing with content labeled satire, which may also be harmful misinformation. — © AFP
Social media operators face a conundrum dealing with content labeled satire, which may also be harmful misinformation. — © AFP

Online advertising has now reached a point of utter mediocrity nobody ever expected. With all that data and all that information, you get useless advertising. Very rarely you see anything of the slightest use to you, let alone something you might actually buy.


A little bit of clarification may be required here. There’s a reason for this effervescent little jaunt into advertising insanity and snivelling ineptitude. I was quite literally born in an advertising agency. I’ve been doing online advertising work of various types for decades. I suspend my disbelief the way people win the lottery – Rarely if ever.

I was learning the Whys of advertising before I went to grade school. Seems that most people only learn the Hows. There’s a very big difference. This is business, bozos, hence this article.

Some Subtle Examples

Online advertising generates some truly amazing metrics, at least according to it. A basic search of the expression online advertising will generate a lot of upbeat results. Everybody, it seems, will make you an instant billionaire overnight. The news about online advertising says otherwise, every day of the week.

The irony here is that while some of the headlines about online advertising are all about invading privacy, most of the actual ads are so oft-target it’s pretty obvious they don’t. Personalized advertising is almost a contradiction in terms in some ways. It is intrusive, it is often misused, and it is a problem; but “effective advertising” it is not, and never will be.

Naturally, the fact and theory are the exact opposites. The most useful practical thing in online advertising is SEO, which if done properly actually will help your search results.  From there on, it’s mythology.

Tracking online users is very much like herding cats. (A quick hint – People are interested in different things at different times. Isn’t that amazing? Now, it’s for your cupcakes and milk, what is the level of currency and lifespan of any online search?)

Whatever information eventually oozes out all the massively overhyped tracking and analysis, most of it is obviously not useful, or used. For example – I did a job for a John Deere service company, and people were trying to sell me tractors for months afterwards. Including for some reason while I was reading The New York Times. So I’m doing online advertising for this company, and the tracking decides that I wanted to buy a tractor. A complete reversal of the facts.

Then there is the masterful complete lack of focus on properly market-targeted advertising. This is universal, and it is done in the worst possible way, apparently for no reason at all. News sites in particular have a very bad habit of adding distracting advertisements on page margins, or even right in the middle of text. Utterly useless, distracting, irritating, and a very negative user experience.

In my experience, there is effectively a 100% certainty that whatever advertising is put on any website will be utterly irrelevant. Occasionally, accidentally, you may see something which is actually interesting a few times per year. Don’t bet on it.

The choice of advertising for specific websites, particularly videos, is hilarious to the point of needing medication. I was watching a death metal band on YouTube to be blessed with an ad for health insurance. I was just watching a combat gameplay video this morning to be interrupted by one of those men’s grooming ads which so desperately needs shooting.

Arguably much worse is the use of web page space. Somebody must be giving courses in irritating placement of online ads.

Consider this delightful user experience:

A really interesting science news page has caught your attention. Lucky you. What follows is pretty indicative of the appalling state of online advertising.

  1. The page loads, then stalls, then keeps adding moving images. Your peripheral vision is constantly irritated.
  2. Anything and everything totally irrelevant to your interest will then be loaded on the page margins.
  3. If you’re lucky, the moving irritation will be replaced by another moving irritation.

Chances of selling anything to anyone in this way, zero. People are paying a fortune for this garbage, which has no possible hope of ever selling anything to anyone.

The really great news for advertisers

If you’re an advertiser, you are by definition a masochist. Apparently nobody audits these unsightly, overpriced total failures. You could be paying dollars per click of this utter rubbish. The good news is that nobody will bother clicking on your ads. The bad news is that you’ve gone through all that online bureaucracy for absolutely nothing.

For the extremely simpleminded:

  1. Ad campaigns can be accurately audited. Sales figures, for some reason, are accurate, and can be directly linked to any type of online advertising. There is also a rumour that the wheel will one day be invented.
  2. Metrics can be properly analysed, not simply turned into excuses.
  3. Any UX-involved person could tell you what happens when you put interruptions in online videos.
  4. Any first-year marketing student could tell you the likely outcome of putting your ads in the wrong places.
  5. A house brick could tell you more about advertising than the spruikers will ever be able to tell you.


What is the point of putting all this time and money and effort into creating and placing utterly useless information? Why this desperate attempt to make people absolutely hate advertised products?

I routinely make a vow never to buy any advertised product that interferes with my user experience. I don’t appreciate my time and money being wasted on such fully useless crap, and I can do something about it. So can every other consumer on the planet.

Is the obvious total lack of talent in online advertising indicative of something? Like for example a global collection of utterly useless overpaid morons who couldn’t sell sex in a jail?

Is this really any kind of expected level of performance on the part of advertising and marketing executives? If so, why? Do you like paying for absolutely nothing?

Why is this drivel being tolerated by anyone? Advertising is expensive, time-consuming, and your business depends on it. …Therefore it should be done as badly as possible?

If you want to sell, at least sell to the right people in the right way. At least pretend to think about user experience. While you’re at it, remember that any online ad can be clicked to oblivion in less than a second.

Meanwhile, advertising geniuses, gesundheit.

Written By

Editor-at-Large based in Sydney, Australia.

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