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Digital Spam

August 24, 2009

Spam. Spam. Spam.

What is the definition? Most people think it’s unwanted e-mail — but junk  mail is unwanted mail, and we don’t call that spam. Maybe because it’s more expensive, and we get less of it, but to me, spam is simply the lack of relevance.

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An add for Cialis in a Teen Magazine would be both funny and spam at the same time. I call Irrelevance spam.

Over at the Toad Stool, Alan Wolk talks about spam on the same day I did with a colleague. Alan first, he’s talking about getting a coupon from a local restaurant because the mobile operator knew where he was:

The problem starts however, when I start getting coupons from ten other restaurants. All of which I’ve (purposely or accidentally) given permission to. Some of which aren’t even particularly local. (Don’t think that’ll happen? Just look at the physical junk mail you get. And unlike emails, those letters cost cash money.)

I commented that I didn’t think it would happen because of Google. Google now has a Quality Score for search ads. “Quality Score” is a fancy name for relevance score really. The more relevant an ad and landing page are to the keyword, the higher up the ad appears and the cheaper it is. Google rewards relevance.

In a related conversation,  I was wondering to a colleague about advertising to status on Facebook. Lets say I wrote: I need a vacation this weekend. And next time I came to Facebook, the ads on the right were for Resorts in driving distance from me (because I don’t have time to book a cheap flight — unless one of the ads was Cheap Last Minute flights to your needed vacation).

My colleague thought my example was too big brotherish.

But I think this is the evolution of advertising. We seem happy to have ads all around us that are seemingly irrelevant. They fight for our attention. But when given a Google-like Facebook scenario, where the things you write result in ads that answer the things you write, we offer skepticism. We feed watched.

And yet, we are sort of watched. There’s immense planning to throw that ad on TV when you watch Lost. Somehow that doesn’t feel like big brother. But an ad attached to a status update is?

To me, that’s being relevant. Like Google, I would like to reward marketers who are relevant. I don’t have to accept the pitch — I still have free will to ignore it. But at least I know there’s more relevant pitches. So when I truly do want to buy something, I can write what I want and let the pitches come to me.

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