Monday, 17 March 2014

Why can't smart advertising be just that little bit smarter?

Many years ago, cross-domain security meant that what happened on one site couldn't be disclosed to another. Then, with the advert of social media, and content being shared, re-shared, regurgitated and re-presented as new information (when it's actually a re-hash of someone else's content) ad-bloody-infinitum such restrictions were relaxed. And if not, exactly relaxed, then workarounds were created, and generally deemed accessible - anything, so long as critically important things like a Twitter feed or Facebook status update could be presented as part of the existing web page.

It's not that long ago that the web development community derided Microsoft's insistence on not only supporting, but promoting, iframes. Now they're used everywhere.

And that nasty 3d-effect border that a lot of browsers insisted on displaying, in order to demonstrate what a stupid idea using inlines frames was, has all but disappeared.

These days, content from one page appears as if it's part of another, with the clever use of iframes and a bit of jQuery. In fact, eBay uses exactly this technique to display content when you click on the "my eBay" link - sometimes it goes a bit screwy and you get multiple scroll bars all over the place, but it the main, it's often impossible to tell if the content you're reading is actually coming from the web site that appears in your web browser's address bar.

Whatever the means or the method, advertisers have always been quick to jump on technology to ram yet more marketing rubbish, if not down our throats, then at least in front of our eyeballs. What's getting a little bit insidious is how major website owners are happy to cross-charge each other (and ultimately, the end customer) for showing adverts which are simply inappropriate.

Here's just one example:
I recently search Farnell for some 24C256 eeprom chips.
I even got so far as to add a few to a basket. Then I checked the cost of sending them, if I didn't hit the minimum £20 order level. It was too pricey, so I thought I'd try another site.

So I searched eBay for the same chips and got a list of results.
But right there at the bottom of the page, was an advert for Farnell


It didn't just say "hey, we sell these chips as well, why not buy some from us?"
The data that tracked me adding them to my basket but then not completing the checkout has been passed to eBay. So now eBay uses this information to display an advert, to encourage me back to Farnell.

Which, as an eBay customer just seems stupid.
If the advert is successful, and lures me back to Farnell, then eBay (and the eBay sellers I would otherwise have shopped with) have lost out. So why are eBay sellers being charged ever more to advertise on a platform which is quite happy to encourage buyers to shop on an entirely different site? Why would eBay think sending customers to a "rival" site is a good idea for anyone (except themselves, taking a rake from the advertising revenue)?

But that's not my major issue.
My issue is that this so-called "smart advertising" just isn't... well... smart enough.
Here's the thing, Farnell.

You know I visited your site.
You know I wanted to buy 24C265 eeprom chips.
You even know that I went to your checkout page.
You know that I didn't buy goods from you.
And you know that I then went to eBay to find someone selling exactly the same products.

Here's where I'd like Farnell to use the tiniest little bit of intelligence:
WHY didn't I buy from you?
WHY did I get all the way to the checkout, then jump onto another site, looking for exactly the same product?

It's not like I went looking for an alternative; I didn't search the Farnell catalogue, fail to find what I wanted, and so tried to find it somewhere else. There's only one reason that could be deduced (even by a stupid computer) for my reason not to purchase - I thought I could buy it cheaper elsewhere. So why would anyone think that putting a picture of a sad puppy would make me abandon that quest, and return back to the website I'd just dismissed as too expensive? For all the intelligence and data gathering that these massive companies undertake, the reasoning behind showing "targetted" adverts just seems pretty dumb.

I hate advertising on the 'net. I hate spam, and Twatter and Facebook, and the constant barrage of adverts that litter many web pages. But I also appreciate that, for some, it's a necessary evil. I'd even concede that, sometimes - if it's targetted well enough - advertising might even be useful for the customer.

But the current level of "intelligence" being used by advertisers is about 2 out of  10 - and falling. And I just wonder what the thinking is behind all this cross-site advertising when, even a cursory analysis would conclude that, in perhaps eight out of ten cases, it's completely inappropriate!