Online Privacy, Stalking & Sensationalism


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Robert | Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Filed under: Advanced, Editorial Page, PPC Tips & Advice

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Sensationalism Sells:
As a resident of eastern Massachusetts I’ve been keeping a keen eye on the path of Hurricane Earl which is expected to be somewhere in our vicinity sometime late this evening. I awoke this morning (Friday, September 3, 2010) and turned on the national news to get an update. Rather than receiving an impartial, fact-based report on the effect that Hurricane Earl had on the eastern coast of the Carolinas, I was greeted by Al Roker who, for some reason, was seemingly unable to keep the hood away from his face and his footing on the ground even though the conditions in which he was reporting from were nothing more than a blustery wind and slight rain. Was this news or sensationalism made for TV?

Sure, Hurricane Earl was a force to be concerned about, but fortunately it all but passed the Carolinas and had done little but drop some rain mixed amidst wind speeds atypical for a normal day – but not hurricane force (fortunately). So why not just say that instead of broadcasting messages of scare and fear. The answer is that sensationalism sells – people gobble it up. It’s like a horror movie that we don’t want to watch but we just can’t turn away from.

Online Privacy Back In The Headlines Again:
That led me to think about the recent series of articles in a prominent U.S. newspaper about online privacy. I admit that the series was well documented and informative, but although the authors walked the fine line of sensationalism, I think they crossed it by using the word “stalking” to refer to advertisements. Tweet this.

The word “stalking” grabs everyone’s attention. The word evokes emotions of fear, domination and self-protection. Those are things that that sell newspapers. But please, let’s keep things in perspective. There are no human being s (or computer code) lurking on the other side of your computer screen watching every move you make. Referring to remarketing/retargeting as “stalking” is as sensational as Al Roker pretending to nearly fall over in a wind gust while delivering his weather report.

Technology Abounds:
Ever since the advent of the consumer-internet in the mid- to late-1990s, privacy and anonymity issues have been of concern – and rightfully so. But if concerned about personal information being accessible online, there’s more information available about you elsewhere, much of it offline, than in online advertising, and unlike online advertising, some of that other information is personally identifiable. I contend that advertisements and the anonymous data that drives them are innocuous.

Additionally, just as there are technologies that allow advertisers to be more accurate in their advertising, there are technologies that allow consumers to block such advertisements by preventing their computer’s IP address from being anonymously tagged. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or a brain surgeon to understand how to establish the setting in current-day browsers to block such tagging.

A Valid Lesson Learned:

All that said I will admit that I did learn something from the series of articles. I previously wrote a blog called “The Shock & Awe of Remarketing/Retargeting”. In it, I talk about how companies, particularly the executives thereof, who are using retargeting for the first time should be prepared for the awe that occurs when seeing their ads appear where in places it hadn’t appeared before, and then the shock that follows when seeing their ad on sites that may have little or nothing to do with their brand, product, service or industry.

My take-away from these articles is that remarketing/retargeting can cause “shock & awe” among the very consumers the ads are targeting. At first, the consumer may be curious about how the ad got there, but after a brief time and continued delivery of the ad, negative emotions within the consumer are evoked, which is the exact opposite effect that the company/advertiser is trying to achieve.

The lesson for me, then, and perhaps for other online marketers, is to limit the longevity of the cookie as well as the number of times the ad is shown to the consumer.

What Do you Think?:
We’d like to know your thoughts. Are you a consumer who has been followed by an advertisement for too long? Are you an online marketer who has experimented with the longevity of the cookie and/or the number of times the ad is delivered to a consumer? When does an ad begin to become intrusive rather than a pleasant reminder? Please let us know what you think by using the comment section below – we’d love to hear from you.

As always, if you have any questions about anything in this blog you should also feel free to use the comment field below – we’re more than happy to address your question(s). Or send a Twitter comment to @MySEMexpert. And please feel free to let us know if you would like a free consultation about your PPC, SEO and/or Social Media Marketing initiatives. We wish you the best of luck in your endeavors.

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2 Responses to “Online Privacy, Stalking & Sensationalism”

  1. Have you seen the “Google is Evil” video doing the rounds? Sensationalism at its very worst.

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