Monday, September 24, 2007

How much more invasive can advertising get?

Ads seem like one of those subliminal things that you don't realize you're being subjected to unless you concentrate on it. If you don't watch TV, though, a major source of advertising is not being delivered to you and if my own experience is any indication, you become much more aware of advertising.

It is indeed everywhere, from your TV to your mailbox to your commute to work to your email when you get there. Ads direct us towards specific products and services, especially those produced under large easily recognizable brand names. Of course, because of the advertising (which is expensive) all of these products naturally have an inflated price compared to their actual worth.

That's a good enough reason for me to focus on small businesses and generic products, but ads are also evolving as technology allows them to be adapted to the individual consumer. The most glaring example of this is the all too common grocery store "club" membership whereby a store (or rather the corporate office) can track the spending habits of local populations, stock their stores accordingly, and direct more specific local ads.

This new VOIP advertising company is a natural extension of that concept. The cost of this phone is subsidized by advertising that is displayed on the computer screen. These ads are directed by a voice recognition program that listens to your conversation, selects key words, and brings up an appropriate ad.

I personally think this new advertising venue will fail, at least initially. Most people will not want their conversations to be tapped. I also think that the marketing company is making some poor assumptions. Since when do you surf the web or do other things while you are in the middle of a telephone conversation? How would this even be applied to cellphones when the screen of the phone will be at the person's ear, not even visible to the caller?

Further, if it does become profitable, is it even worth it to consumers? These ads exist because they work. They influence us to spend more or make uninformed "brand" purchases. That could cost you more than a free phone call.

And more disturbing?

Mr. Maislos said that during tests he noticed that the content had a tendency to determine conversations. “The conversation was actually changing based on what was on the screen,” he said. “Our ability to influence the conversation was remarkable.”
Real-time advertising has the potential to actually influence our conversations. Good for business, not good for us.

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