Let’s say you want to advertise your business, so you go to some marketing and advertising gurus to get the job done.

The advertising gurus tell you about some really cool new technology that makes it possible to spy on people as they explore the Internet. This gives the advertiser an insight into each potential buyer. It’s called tracking and it’s done with cookies and other methods. Of course, cookies aren’t needed if you are signed into a social network like Facebook (because there’s no mystery about who you are or what you’re looking at).

As someone wanting to advertise your business, you are impressed by the advertising gurus’ abilities, but wonder if consumers will complain about invasion of privacy. Turns out the advertising gurus had already thought ahead on this one. They created a website called YourAdChoices.com to give consumers the false feeling of empowerment and choice.

Of course, most people never find out about the AdChoices website because the icon that links to the site is typically too small to see. For example, the AdChoices icon used in Google AdSense ads is about 17 x 17 pixels in size, as shown here in actual size.20130910tu-youradchoices-icon-used-by-google-adsense You’ve probably noticed this little icon before, but perhaps were never inquisitive enough to click on it.

“The personalized advertising approach widely adopted by the entire advertising industry has many major flaws which nobody seems to have noticed.” ~ Greg Johnson, Consumer Advocate

Unlike context sensitive ads (which are relevant to the page they are on) these “personalized ads” attempt to deliver ads based on your browsing history.

We’ve all had the experience of visiting a website, and then for the rest of the day seeing ads for the website we visited earlier in the day. One’s first reaction is to think it’s a spooky coincidence, but then we realize that the ads are the result of systems spying on our browsing history and then, somehow, we feel “it’s okay.”

Think for a moment about how ineffective this method of advertising is. Here are just a few reasons why the current system of personalized advertising is ineffective:

  • Annoyance. The advertising guru will tell you that having repeated ads will eventually win a customer over. Yet, as a consumer, how many times have you decided not to purchase something because the repeated ads became an annoyance?
  • Cookie Blocking. Increasingly, privacy conscious consumers are using “private browsing” features in browsers that disable cookies and tracking. This makes personalized advertising almost impossible.
  • Existing Customer. An existing customer is likely to return to your website for ongoing support and information. Yet, personalized advertising doesn’t take this into account. So, as a business, you’re paying for ads that reach existing customers. That’s a waste of your money and a waste of screen space.
  • No Interest. People sometimes visit a website of a business yet have no intension of purchasing anything. Even so, this person’s interests or intensions aren’t taken into account when ads show up later.
  • Shared Computer. It’s common in a household, and within a family, for people to share the same computer and user account. Ads intended for one user will be displayed to another, and they may not be appropriate for all viewers. Or, imagine that you’re planning to surprise your spouse with flowers, and you’re looking at various websites. Then your spouse sits down to use the computer, and is inundated with ads for flower shops. The surprise is ruined.
  • Unnecessary. The purpose of advertising is to introduce potential customers to something they don’t yet know about. If people are shown ads based on sites they’ve visited, then, as a business, you’re paying to reach a customer who has already found you.

Facebook Friends-Based Advertising. Facebook customizes ads based on who your friends are, and it doesn’t take too many friends with a certain interest for you to begin having “their ads” show up as you use Facebook. These are ads that are targeted to people like them, and it’s assumed that you are like the people you friend. For someone who is an author, blogger, musician, politician, or anyone else who has a diverse group of people they are connected with, the ads will seem to be a random mix reflecting your social network. Friend the wrong people, and you might get some embarrassing or offensive ads showing up.

Advertisers aren’t really passionate about selling your product or service. They don’t care about promoting your organization. Their main and perhaps only goal is to convince you that their advertising is worth buying. That’s what they are trying to sell.

The traditional approaches to advertising still work today: find people interested in what you have to offer, and reach out to them with an engaging message.