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Digital Media and the Journey of Insidious Intent

Friday, March 20, 2015

In honour of World Poetry Day, March 21 2015…

There are times I more acutely see the generation gap wrenching open before me like a canyon on the landscape of digital marketing.

I’m on one side yelling across the chasm to my talented colleagues in the paid media department, asking such questions as how does programmatic buying work, and why, if real time bidding (RTB) is occurring as we speak, does our office not look and feel like a mad auction house of buying and selling?

Algorithms, they tell me coolly — software and algorithms. Within milliseconds bids are automatically won and lost and ads are placed in front of web-browsing users based on detailed behavioural and demographic profiles.

Right. So there you have it. The machines are in charge.

I grow old… I grow old… I shall wear the pant legs of my trousers rolled. (“The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

No, wait; let’s not yet bow to our computer overlords. We still control the message, yes? We still chart the path of the customer journey.

Analytics can tell us who and where people are online, but they cannot tell us what to say or how to inspire them. For example, the Netflix Algorithm suggests movies I should see based on films I’ve previously watched, but it doesn’t write the screenplays.

Score a point for human empowerment! And what are we doing with such power to form and distribute messages through deftly paid placements online?

Apparently some of us are doing this:

yahoo native ad example

[Caption]: Step 1 – The Bait

uk life insure

[Caption]: Step 2 – The Club

That is not it at all, that is not what I meant, at all. (again, from Prufrock)

No explanation. Not even the suggestion of a user journey. Just a piece of expensive bait and blunt club to the head while the hand pickpockets the cash.

Do they take us for such voracious consumers that we would go in a click from pursuing the mysteries of eternal life to plunking a life insurance policy into an online shopping cart?

I’m not a digital media specialist – we’ve got smart people at Ambergreen who manage paid channels like PPC, Display, Social, Video, etc… – and I don’t know how successful this ad was. But I can’t imagine that it worked out well for UK Life Insure. If we were to consider the ad’s intended user journey, the post mortem checklist might look something like:

  • Awareness – -fantastic: Yahoo homepage visibility is off the charts
  • Traffic – robust: teaser message brings people streaming to the landing page
  • Conversion — utter crap, crickets chirping, fog horns yawning, mixed with disillusionment and anger

About 100 years ago T.S. Eliot wrote The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, a poem about disillusionment, frustration and the thwarted desires of the modern individual. He could have been depicting our contemporary experience in the Digital Information Age, exploring the internet, looking for connections, for meaning, for knowledge, and instead getting inane commercial tripe like this jammed down our throats at every turn.

For the record, we try to do better with the digital marketing services we provide at Ambergreen. Yes, we are helping companies promote and sell stuff, but the messages we create and promote are designed to match the real needs and interests of their customers, not fool them into a making a murky journey toward a dubious purchase.

Here’s the point: paid placement or not, we can create a more substantive and rewarding customer experience on the medium that happens to be the World Wide Web. And we should not allow machines to dictate what we say to each other.  Because algorithms don’t write poems, not good ones anyway. They can’t write as Eliot did:

In the room the women come and go,

Talking of Michelangelo

We won’t necessarily talk of Michelangelo, but if you want to figure out how to more sensibly and powerfully channel online interest to your product or service,  contact me to take the next step.


0131 225 0720

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