Brands that follow you round like a puppy are just waiting to be kicked
With Idealogwinning Best Feature Website at the Qantas Media Awards recently, this seems like a good opportunity to say a few words in response: I had nothing whatsoever to do with it. But as the person who sits next to the person who did, I feel suitably qualified to give my number one criterion for a good site: an anti-stalking policy.
Pre-empting the clicks of website visitors has become the modern-day version of Microsoft Word’s Letter Assistant. Remember that waggly-browed floating head who’d pop up as soon as you hit the tab key? “Looks like you’re writing a letter! Can I help you with that?” In the absence of a ‘bugger off’ option, the answer was invariably a quickly clicked ‘no’. As interactive technology becomes ever slicker, the answer still is no—or would be if we were given the option.
Yesterday, via a scroll of keyword-triggered ads, Gmail piped up: “I see you mentioned the word ‘shoot’ in your email. Would you like to buy a hunting rifle?”
Actually no. I’m a vegetari—
“I see you’re friends with Laurence!” interrupted window number two, Facebook, via its ‘People you may know’ pop-up. “Do you know Laurence’s friend Andrew?”
Yep. Met him at a party where he tried to simultaneously shove amyl nitrate up my nose and cop a feel. Thanks for reminding—
“I see you’re looking at a sporting story on ballet!” bellowed window number three, otherwise known as nzherald.co.nz. “You may also be interested in this story on rugby tactics.”
Not in the slightest. In fact, I’m more interested in shooting the next web marketer I encounter with that hunting rifle. See, while someone reading your newspaper over your shoulder is irritating, your newspaper reading your newspaper over your shoulder should be an offence punishable by death.
Still, such blatant intrusions are preferable to living with the uneasy feeling that you’re being followed around cyberspace by an invisible force. You know, because you are. Beacons, the web-bug sleuths that note things like your IP address, the time and duration that you viewed a page and the one you went to next, send reports back to base so ‘behavioural targeting,’ can get underway. Or carried away.
In April, Google paid US$3.1 billion for online advertising company DoubleClick. What a bargain. This match-up means provided that you start at GO and add an OGLE, very soon there will be no way to crawl out from the search engine’s behavioural targeting net.
With the online share of the US advertising market hitting the ten percent mark this year—up from six percent two years ago—the reason marketers are putting the knife in is obvious: cut through. But the backslash is lashing back. In the US right now a major coalition of privacy and consumer groups is pushing the Federal Trade Commission to publish a list of servers that track users online, so web crusaders can fight them off with an all-powerful tick in the ‘block’ box.
Track records suggest a track list wouldn’t end up in the junk folder. Within 12 hours of Facebook announcing a beacon policy last year, 2,000 members signed MoveOn.org’s petition against it. Joe Public is more private than you thought.
That’s not to say he’s not amenable to a proposition—by all means make Joe an offer as he scrolls past. But if he refuses it, don’t keep pace with him as he flees screeching, “You sure? You sure?” like a Thai avatar on a tuk-tuk.
Surely, sometime in the realm of too-soon-to-think-about computers will be able to engage with us in a truly intelligent way. But until then, even if I’m visiting a social network, I don’t want to have a conversation with it. When a web page can debate the theories of Nietzsche with me? Okay, then we’ll go for a beer.
The big problem with interactive website ‘assistance’ is it that assumes your personality can be summed up in a keyword and your next move predetermined by the one you just made, thus inferring you are simple and predictable. Not the best way to get a potential customer on side, surely.
If you want your brand to be desirable you have to show some class—nobody buys a cow with desperate cow eyes, no matter how good her milk is. And guess what, Gmail? Nobody buys a hunting rifle on her way to a photo shoot either.
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