For anyone using Gmail (and that means a lot of us these days), mutated “personalised” ads are something of a constant which often you just can’t help but notice. Considering how easy it usually is to visually filter out website ads or turn them off altogether with plugins like AdBlock, getting us to linger over them at all is in itself something of an achievement. Sure, most of us have figured out how to access the “Ad Preferences Manager” and “opt out” of these sort of ads…but this is to some extent misleading. Despite confirming that I have opted out, Gmail still happily states that many of the ads I see are “based on the email that you are viewing.”
I assume they mean “based on” in the same way that Django Unchained is “based on” historical events, because many bizarrely off-kilter ads rear up daily to distract me from the important and time-critical business of
procrastination email correspondence. Is this really what they have in mind when they talk about Advertainment?
Many attempts are clearly generic “catch alls” – cheap holidays, bank loans, ancestry searches etc. Many others reveal the problem with using only a simple keyword extraction approach to determining from my mails what might interest me. If I am already undertaking a PhD at a University – something made clear from my email signature – then how likely am I really to want to start another one in Cardiff, Leeds or exotic Manchester? Others are less explicable – Learn Acting in Australia! Hawaii Beach Weddings! Plus Size Swimwear. Really? Believe it or not, these do not relate to my Google searches either. I can only assume this is where their demographic profiling shows off its flawless powers of deduction.
Never until today had an ad that might actually, truly be relevant presented itself. Best of all, it was wonderfully, knowingly ironic and self-referential. This – yes, I clicked the hyperlinked ad words! Deliberately! – was where I landed:
It pains me to admit that I am actually now thinking of buying this book. Did they finally find a way to trap me? I, so immune from the sinister world of both mass and personalised marketing? Doubtless, Google and Amazon are already working together to track whether or not I make the purchase. The hoped for path from my inbox to my letterbox, once complete, will light up their control panel in waves of ecstatic green. Ticker tape will fall from the sky. And they will add me, quietly, to their tally of “converts”. Borrowed from the now-defunct Christians, convert (in
new marketing speak) means “when someone clicks on your ad and performs a behavior on your website that you recognize as valuable, such as calling your business from a mobile phone or making a purchase on your website.” Surely Zygmunt Bauman would be proud of me for NOT buying the book? His bank manager, possibly less so.