Online Advertising: Stalkers in Our Midst

The days of creating meaningful, relevant and memorable advertising are pretty much over—especially in the digital world. And healthcare is no exception. As an industry, it appears we’ve shifted our focus from designing ads that stop to ads that stalk.

The Google Influence

In some ways, Google is to blame. In its most basic form, Google taught us that a dozen tiny words squeezed into predictably positioned, algorithmically served, cookie-cutter blocks of text that appear when users enter specific search queries can perform significantly better than creative units that scroll, expand and dance maniacally—with the elusiveness of an escaped convict—across people’s browsers.

It wasn’t just traditional media budgets that got hacked and slashed as the online media ecosystem grew in scale and sophistication. It was also the requirement for intelligent and creative articulation of messages that unraveled at the seams. We went from the desire for standout art and copy to the reliance on science. Media planning, perhaps necessarily, has become mathemagical—an ad’s performance is no longer determined by its ability to engage and connect via its creative execution, but rather by an ad network’s ability to prowl through your browsing history and then apply ingenious algorithms to serve you the most relevant ad.

When Ads Become “Ad Units”

The transformation from human-powered, creatively driven ads into template-rendered “ad units” served by artificial intelligence systems would be well and good—if it actually worked. But ad click-through rates are at an all-time low and attitudes about online advertising are worse than ever. Although studies have shown that behavioral targeting has significantly increased ad relevance, it has come at the expense of user privacy—and has done little to reduce the number of ads and the accompanying bombardment of visual clutter.

Worse yet, users have accepted the ridiculous state of online media as a necessary evil, chasing impossible-to-close banners across the screen, having unwanted videos spontaneously burst into song in their Facebook news streams and sifting through page after page of spam and scam ads that now infest every corner of the online universe—making the real and essential messages indecipherable from the rest.

Is Change In The Works?

It’s time for ad networks to raise the bar on the kind of products and services that they allow on their platforms. It’s time for web properties to demand that ad networks improve the user experience and ban unwanted and intrusive pop-up banner ads and auto-play videos. And most important, it’s critical for the users to protest the state of online advertising with action. Go incognito. Turn off cookies. And don’t just click on the “close” button for an ad—give them the ultimate finger: Close the website entirely and stop being their monetizable eyeball.

  • Fabio Gratton

    Fabio Gratton is Chief Alchemist at Alchemy Factory. Fabio is the founder of Alchemy Factory, a southern California-based digital health incubator and co-work space focused on helping biotech, pharma, and health tech startups accelerate and commercialize their products.

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