Contextual advertising's humorous side

Contextual advertising’s humorous side.
Maybe it’s because I write about these things from time-to-time, but I notice contextual online ads, especially those offered by Google’s artificial intelligence. Of course, it could just be that I spend too much time on the Web. In certain environments, the ads work just fine, and by “work” I mean the businesses that are advertised seem in context with the page upon which they are delivered. Other times, though, whew!

It’s not on my blogroll, but I read Don Fitzpatrick’s Watercooler every day. It’s a glorified bulletin board that used to be a place where TV news people could talk about TV news. It’s overrun by morons and political antagonists these days, but that’s beside the point. Alongside the list of threads sit those Google contextual ads, and they produce some laughable results. One thread was about people wearing flip-flops in a newsroom (apparently this is not an acceptable practice). Mind you, this is one of about 20 threads on a list, but Google gave us four places where we could buy sandals and flip-flops. Then, there was a thread about John Kerry’s flip-flopping, and, yup, more ads for sandals. This morning, we’re given flip-flop pendants and other jewelry. A thread about photos of coffins of dead U.S. Servicemen produced ads for Mariners tickets, because the original photo was published in Seattle.

The Register — that wonderful technical news pub from England — also uses Google contextual ads (who doesn’t?) with similar, humorous results. A story about a new 419 email generated ads for more information about Islam, because the email is purportedly from a Muslim. A wonderful story about a postal worker reselling stolen items on eBay offers ads for clarinets, because the instrument was mentioned in the piece.

I’ve said before that contextual ads don’t belong in a news environment, and you can bet that serious advertisers will stay away from this — at least for awhile. Imagine the Google ads that a plane crash or automobile accident could generate. It wouldn’t be funny then.

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