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Guest Host: Matt McCleskey
Online advertising was once limited to banner and pop-up ads that most Internet users would eagerly minimize. Today’s ads, which use social platforms like Vine and Instagram to engage their audience, are more sophisticated. They are also growing more personal, as marketers mine social data to tailor ads to the tastes and interests of individual users. We explore new developments in online advertising and ask what they mean for users and their privacy on the web.
- Jennifer Golbeck Associate Professor, College of Information Studies, University of Maryland; Director, Human Computer Interaction Lab at the University of Maryland
- Greg Kihlström Founder and Chief Strategy Officer, Carousel30
- Harley Jebens User Experience Strategist, BBDO Atlanta
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Matt McCleskey, local host of "Morning Edition" here on WAMU 88.5, sitting in today for Kojo. Internet user first encountered online advertising 20 years ago as they dialed up to the web from landline phones. It was a simple black banner ad, asking them to click here. But today, in the era of 15 megabits per second, users barely get to choose whether they want to click.
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYAdvertisers are becoming much more ambitious. They're tapping into our social interactions online, using what we like, recommend, and talk about to personalize advertising for each individual user. They're taking part, as well, in online conversations, integrating sponsored content into our feeds on Facebook, Twitter and Google, where users can't help but look.
MR. MATT MCCLESKEYHere to talk about the state of online advertising and its future this hour on "Tech Tuesday, "Jen Golbeck, Professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She also Directs the Human Computer Interaction Lab. Thanks for joining us.
MS. JENNIFER GOLBECKGlad to be here.
MCCLESKEYAlso Greg Kihlstrom, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Carousel30, a digital advertising agency here in the Washington area. Thanks for being here.
MR. GREG KIHLSTROMThanks.
MCCLESKEYAnd joining us from a studio in Atlanta, Georgia is Harley Jebens, Director of User Experience at BBDO Atlanta, an advertising agency there. Thank you for being with us.
MR. HARLEY JEBENSThank you for having me.
MCCLESKEYVery glad to have you all on board this afternoon. Of course, we're all used to seeing advertisements online. Greg, perhaps I'll start with you. We may be a little startled, though, when friend's faces show up in some ads, or if shoes we looked at once keep popping up on some different pages as you navigate around different websites. And I realize there may not be one answer to this question, but is technology improving advertising online? There is also the question of, is it becoming more intrusive? How do you weigh those two things?
KIHLSTROMYeah, I mean, I think our job, as advertisers, is really to provide goods and services that are relevant to users, and that users want. So, I mean, I think as we are able to personalize and, you know, show these types of things to people based on what their friends like, what they like, all of those kinds of things, you know, we're doing a better job as advertisers.
MCCLESKEYHow do you hope that users will interact with some of these new technologies?
KIHLSTROMI think they will -- they're already interacting with them as if their other friends or brands they follow on Facebook or Twitter or things like that. So, I mean, that's really giving brands a voice and a character that people seem willing to interact with. And, yeah.
MCCLESKEYWell, Harley Jebens, I put the same question to you. What sort of new technologies are you seeing with the advertising, and how are users interacting with those?
JEBENSI think that the -- what I see happening is a continued evolution in how we're reaching our client's customers. Again, Facebook is a platform that has evolved and continues to evolve. And as changes happen to that platform, we adapt correspondingly. All these other social networks that are proliferating out there, as well, that are starting to open up their APIs to allow additional uses for them, which allow...
MCCLESKEYTell us what APIs are.
KIHLSTROMAPI is a mechanism that you can use to basically use some of the functionality of these services for other -- take that functionality outside of that platform itself. So, you see things like login with Facebook. Use your Facebook ID to log in to a website. That's using the Facebook API.
MCCLESKEYOkay. Well, as we see the ads becoming more personal and bringing, perhaps, more individualized concepts and ideas into the advertising, Facebook ads know our location, email services have ads that target the key words in messages. Just this month, Google rolled out shared endorsements, using very own friends to recommend restaurants, products and services. I'd like to turn to you, Jen Golbeck, and just ask, it seems like getting more personalized information is helpful in many ways, but also, some users may think that's a little bit too -- using that information in ways they might not have thought it would be used. Why do you think users are bothered by some of this type of new technology?
GOLBECKYeah, I think there's an interesting distinction to make here. And that's whether or not people are choosing to see this content or choosing to share the content. Or if it's being done kind of automatically. So, for example, if we're talking about friends sharing content with us that's interesting, I can think of a lot of places in D.C. that I would be totally happy to recommend to my friends. I'd be happy to go to a page for 2 Amys, which I love, right, and tell all my friends, you totally should go get pizza here.
GOLBECKAnd then I don't mind if 2 Amys is sharing that. There's a difference, though, if I've liked a page and then that starts getting used without me really understanding or consenting. I think the same thing comes with sponsored posts. I really love a lot of online ads.
GOLBECKAnd I tell people, a lot of times when I'll do a search on Google, especially if I'm shopping, I'll look just at the ads. Right? I'll put in a brand name. If I want to buy an expensive pair of shoes, I'll put in the brand name, and just look at the ads, cause I know those ads are from places that are selling exactly what I want. But then I know I'm looking at ads, right? And then there's a distinction, and I think this is becoming more and more common, where advertising and sponsored content is so integrated into another experience that it's hard to distinguish it.
GOLBECKAnd that, I think, people also find a little disconcerting.
MCCLESKEYWell, that integration, particularly, we could talk about this, perhaps, more a little later, with native advertising and the integration of advertising content with editorial. We'll certainly get to that. But this idea of whether users know how their information is gonna be used, I'm interested in, as well. When people are logging in to Facebook or using their Google email or Google Plus account, how clear is it where that information may be going?
GOLBECKIt's not clear, and, in fact, it changes a lot. So, one of the first failed examples of this was that Facebook had connected with a couple sites like overstock.com, and they had this service called Beacon, where they could connect your email address. So, if I bought something on overstock, it would just post it on my Facebook page. People had no idea that this was happening, and they rolled it out around Christmastime, so it turned out people would be buying gifts, and then the gifts would be posted.
GOLBECKLike, oh, Jen just bought this thing from overstock.com. I'm kind of an expert in this, right? So I should know better. And I got caught by that, too. I had ordered a mattress for a guest room, and all of a sudden, it showed up on my Facebook page. And I was thinking, I'm so careful with my privacy settings and what I want to share, and I really curate my Facebook page. I should have, of anybody, been knowing how this information was going to be shared, and I didn't. So, that service eventually was taken down, but there are constant experiments with how do we integrate content from other places?
GOLBECKAnd so where that line falls of what is things I choose to share, and what are ways that my information's being used by other purposes? That line shifts all the time, so it's really hard for users to keep track.
MCCLESKEYI'd like to ask our listeners, what do you think of the increasingly personalized nature of ads online today? Do you think advertisers should be using your web browsing habits and social networking profiles to refine which products they market to you and think you might be interested in? Give us a call. 800-433-8850. You can take part in this conversation. You can also email us at email@example.com. You can also reach us through our Facebook page or by sending us a tweet to @kojoshow.
MCCLESKEYOf course, some brands depend on getting their customers' trust with advertising. You want people to look at it and feel that they trust the information they're getting. If users don't like, and Greg, I'll pose this to you, if users don't like how advertisers are using their personal data online, do you think that could then backfire on the brand somehow?
KIHLSTROMAbsolutely. Yeah. I mean, I think consumers should have the option to opt out of things, and, you know, also have the ability to say what they do want more of. And I think it's probably easier to say what you do want than you don't want, unfortunately. But, yeah, definitely. And, I mean, I think there's some options like ad choices and some other industry things that give people the option to opt out of certain brands or certain subjects. But, again, I think it does come down to -- it's the burden of the advertiser and the ad networks and all of that to really give people clear information on what information is going to be used and all of that.
MCCLESKEYWell Harley Jebens, let me ask you this. Advertisements are increasingly riffing off our social interactions. Google shared endorsements just one example. What could be effective about mixing advertising with our social lives?
JEBENSWhat could be effective about...
MCCLESKEYWhat, how is it helpful, I suppose, to the consumer, to mix advertising in with your social networking?
JEBENSWell, if an ad is relevant to your interests or likes, then it's potentially exposing information about a brand or service that you might be interested in. So, there's more increased relevancy towards what you're looking at. If I'm an outdoorsman, for instance, and I start seeing ads about hiking boots or jackets or, you know, goods and services related to that interest, then that will be more relevant to me than other content. And that content may be identified by my social network sort of behavior.
MCCLESKEYJen Golbeck, you want to jump in on some of the benefits?
GOLBECKYeah, I mean, I think this is an interesting thing, if we go down to the science of why all of this works. There's this very basic concept of sociology called homophily (sp?) , Which says that we're friends with people who are like us. And that's really what this advertising that connects with your social network is trying to take advantage of. Your friends are generally more likely to like the same kinds of things as you. So, if you can see the sorts of things that they like and that they're paying attention to, it's much more likely that that's gonna relevant to you than something that's more broadly targeted.
MCCLESKEYNow, some people, of course, are trying to do whatever they can do to avoid advertising. There are products out there that help people do that. Many times, if you look at a page, and it's either a banner at the top or down the sides, the eye falls automatically to the middle, trying to avoid some of that. That's partly why ads have begun to be incorporated more, and what we're talking about today, incorporated more into some of the content. But there also are products like Ad Block that many users use to try to limit the number of advertising items that they see.
MCCLESKEYJen, why do you think many users say they just don't wanna see advertising?
GOLBECKYeah, I'm guilty of this. I'm absolutely a user of Ad Block and I feel a little guilty about it, because on one hand, I know that I'm using these services that -- their existence is paid for by ads that I'm not seeing. So, I'm kind of stealing, right? At the same time, I'm a computer scientist, and I study the way people interact with technology, and so I'm interested in giving people the best possible technological experience. And, generally, ads are taking away from that experience. They're taking up space that could be used by the content people are actually going to see.
GOLBECKIt increases the amount of times they have to scroll. Sometimes the ads are really intrusive. They'll cover up the page, so you have to look at them. And so, just from a user experience level, it really decreases your ability to use the page and focus and pay attention. And, for anybody who uses an ad blocking service like me, when I go use somebody else's computer, and it's not installed, I'm shocked at the sites that I go to normally, and have no idea about the ads that are there.
GOLBECKSo, it really does make your experience using the web better to have those ad blocks installed a lot of the time, but there really is, I think, this moral tension, of how comfortable are you with stealing the services from the places that rely on you seeing those ads.
MCCLESKEYAnd it does seem that, perhaps, the targeting, by using some of the user information to find products that are, perhaps, are ones you might be more interested in, rather than just random -- whatever's gonna pop up on the course of a page, is a way to avoid some of that frustration.
GOLBECKThat's true. I think the better we get with advertisements being relevant to people, the less likely it's gonna be that people need to put on these ad blocks. And this goes along with what I mentioned with the Google ads. A lot of times, I want to see them, because they give me really relevant information. I just think we haven't nailed that down yet. Social media has given marketers access to demographic information that they have always really wanted, but they're relying a lot on that.
GOLBECKSo, I'm in my mid-thirties. I get a lot of ads for infertility. I don't have any kids. I don't want any kids, but I get a lot of infertility ads, because I don't have any. And so, that's clearly demographic targeting, but we need a lot more refinement, and I think marketers will come around to finding better ways to do that as they deal with this huge amount of information they have now about users.
MCCLESKEYWell, it seems, to a certain extent, like a cat and mouse game. I'm reminded, going back to television advertising. You think, oh, I'm going to change the channel, but then, most of the networks will put ads on at the same time, so if you change the channel, you're seeing different ads. Similarly, if you're clicking away from, you're focusing in on the content, rather than the ads, they're gonna find a way, then, to cover up the screen with the entire ad. And you have to hunt around to find the close button. But by that time, you've clearly seen what the ad is for.
GOLBECKWhich, I suppose, is a success, even if you're, perhaps, irritated by having to do that. You're still getting the product out there. I'd like to ask Greg and Harley, do you see it that way, to a certain extent, as a kind of cat and mouse, where you're finding better ways to try to keep eyes on the advertising? And Greg, let's start with you.
KIHLSTROMYeah, absolutely. I mean, I think there's -- so, there's two kinds of relevance that I think we're dealing with. One is the personal relevance, so, you know, we know that you've taken this action or you've gone to this website before, or you've liked this on Facebook. And then there's contextual relevance, which I know we're gonna talk about native advertising a little bit, too. It's, you know, it's this makes sense because it's surrounded by other content. So, but we really haven't mixed both of them. Some of this has to do with just the amount of granularity that we're able to create around a specific advertisement.
KIHLSTROMSo, if I know that I am in a specific place, or the user's in a specific place, and they like these certain things, we can get super personalized advertisements, but that also requires a lot of technology and a lot of, you know, big data type things that require a lot of personalization of a specific ad. So, I think until we get to that point, the trick is to, you know, how do we show someone something that is new, unique, relevant and all of those things at once without being too intrusive at the same time? I think that breeds a lot of tries and misses, as well. I mean, those things -- the takeover ads that annoy some people are also -- they interest other people.
MCCLESKEYWhen a car drives across the screen or something like that, some people are super annoyed by that. Some people actually think it's cool, so it's -- I think it breeds a lot of experimentation.
MCCLESKEYI have seen ads where something will zoom off, and then if you click here, you get to go to a different site and see a movie, which is an ad, but it's also an attempt to make something that's content, as opposed to just a product ad, placement.
MCCLESKEYWell, we want to know what you think about online advertising. To our listeners, the number to call to take part in this conversation -- 800-433-8850. Or send us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Get in touch with us through our Facebook page or by sending us a tweet to @kojoshow. We're gonna take a short break now, and we'll continue the conversation just on the other side. We're speaking this hour with Jen Golbeck, a Professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She also directs the Human Computer Interaction Lab. Greg Kihlstrom, Founder and Chief Strategy Officer at Carousel30, a digital advertising agency here in the Washington area. And, from a studio in Atlanta, Harley Jebens. He's Director of User Experience at BBDO Atlanta, an advertising agency there in Atlanta, Georgia. And we'll be back in just a couple of minutes. Stay with us.
MCCLESKEYWelcome back to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." I'm Matt McCleskey, local host of "Morning Edition," here on WAMU 88.5. on "Tech Tuesday." We're talking about the state and the future of online advertising. And I'd like to go straight to the phones now. Thanks to those of you who've called and have been waiting. Let's go first to Emma, from Potomac, Maryland. Emma, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
EMMAHi. I had a question about information sharing between some of the social networking sites and businesses like Safeway or Giant or CVS, like with the care cards. Because I have been to CVS before, gotten something that was of a fairly personal nature, I didn't think that there would be any way for Facebook to have access to that information, just by using my care card. But then, coincidentally, I have to assume it was coincidentally at least, the next day, ads for those products began showing up on my Facebook newsfeed.
EMMASo, I was wondering if there was any way to, like, attribute that to some kind of information sharing, or if I should just chalk it up to pure coincidence.
MCCLESKEYWell, thanks for the call, Emma. And let's find out. Jen Golbeck, with the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland, have you seen anything like that, where a card, a member card for any particular retailer shows up in your Facebook page?
GOLBECKSo, this is a really common question that comes up, and I've talked to probably a dozen people who have raised these kinds of issues, not necessarily specific to Facebook, or to CVS, rather. But that they'll see something on Facebook the day after they've done something that kind of no one knows about. There was a pretty well covered case of this, I think, last summer, where a guy had started getting ads from Facebook about services to support people who are coming out, and he hadn't told anybody. He had sent a couple text messages to one friend about, you know, he was thinking about coming out, and then the next day started these ads on Facebook.
GOLBECKAnd he says, is Facebook reading my text messages? I think a lot of it actually is coincidental. At the same time, Facebook absolutely has partnerships with different retailers. I don't know what that full list is, at this point, and I think it changes, depending on what sorts of products they're rolling out, like the Beacon that I talked about before, where they had partnered with some online retailers. So, I can't answer specifically if they have a partnership with CVS, and if they see what's on those cards, but those partnerships certainly exist with certain companies.
MCCLESKEYI guess, also, if it's not coming from the companies, it gets to the question of, and thanks for your call, Emma. It gets to the question of how well some of these social media sites know us through whatever data you put in, even it's not what you think it might be.
GOLBECKThat's right, and again, some of this can be coming from your friends. And there are particular things, if you go into Facebook or Twitter's advertising page, they allow you to target, you know, things that a person's friends have seen, for example. So, it could be Emma had a friend who bought one of these products, and Facebook somehow found out about that. And that's why she was seeing ads. So, there is so much data that can be used to target these ads that it could be, you know, just coincidence that you bought it yesterday, but you got one of those hits where it did a really good job of nailing down exactly the kind of thing you might want to buy.
MCCLESKEYWe're gonna be talking about conspiracy theories in our next hour on the program. So, we'll see you then. How does Facebook know what it does? Just kidding. Let's go to another caller now. Phil, calling from Alexandria, Virginia. You're on the air. Go ahead, Phil.
PHILHey folks, thanks for a very, very good discussion. I've been an online user, actually since about 1983, and I know that's not possible, but I guess it doesn't matter. But, these companies, Facebook is the obvious one, LinkedIn, Pinterest, all of them. They're basically simply advertising agencies, and when they do their IPOs, it's always kind of wonderful to see how people fantasize that they're going actually become a replacement for Western civilization. I've known some people who did quite well in the advertising agency business. I don't, but, in the end, what they're doing is providing a service for the people that are actually paying the bills, which is the advertisers.
PHILAnd, Jen, I think you used the expression cat and mouse. And I think that's apt, and I think, frankly, we should all just be ready that these folks are competitive with each other, they are providing services to what's going to be an increasingly critical base of customers, I.e. the people that are actually buying ads. And we, for example, bought -- we remodeled our kitchen last year. And it turned out, after a little while, obviously we were doing product research, which is a little less exciting than say, shopping online for sensual excitement products. Well, I don't know, the new kitchen is pretty nice.
PHILBut, and suddenly, it turns out that whenever we would go on to say, the New York Times website, all we would see in the line of the little ads, which are relatively innocuous down the right side, was ads for kitchen appliances. Nothing. Everything was kitchen appliances. And then after a while, it went away.
MCCLESKEYWell, Phil, let me, if you have a question, quickly get to that, because we do have a number of other folks on the line. What do...
PHILI do. I think, I put this to all your folks, but especially Jen. There need to be some rules of expectation. And I think, you talked about some, but I think there are some things that the ad people do that, in my judgment, go beyond, sort of. The, like, pop under ads that you don't even see until you try to get off the site. And then they're still sitting there trying to sell you something. How much information sharing is gonna be done? The general expectation right now is everything.
MCCLESKEYWell, Phil, let me just stop you there and get an answer to that question. Jen Golbeck, this is the web. What are the rules? It's often seen as a place, you know, the wild west.
MR. ARNIE KATZYeah, so I really appreciate these comments from Phil, and he's kind of hit on something that I could talk to you about for a whole other hour, and I'm actually working on a book on this. You know, what are the benefits and tradeoffs between the information that we share online? Because, you know, as we talked about having more personalized ads, in one sense, is really good for users, cause you're not seeing worthless things. At the same time, you know, there's risks, and everybody has a different profile of how they want their information used and how personalized they want things to be.
GOLBECKSo, I think, right now, people really don't understand all the information they're sharing and what can be done with it. A lot of the work that we do in my lab, and others are doing, look at inferring attributes about people from this. So, not only do we see the obvious things that you share, the things that you like, but we can infer things like your political preference, your personality traits, whether you're a drinker or a smoker. There's this big data, which Greg had mentioned, that allow us to find out all kinds of things about users.
GOLBECKAnd when you integrate that with tracking the things that they're looking at online, there's really powerful things you can do. I think the future really concisely comes down to people are going to have different levels of comfort with this. Phil is absolutely right that the advertisers or the companies right now and the people who use these sites are kind of the product.
GOLBECKI think one way that we might see this model shift is actually allowing, say, Facebook users to pay a fee to keep their information private, to stop seeing ads, and just to pay per month to use this service. I think that are people more and more who would be willing to do that, to keep their data private.
GOLBECKSo I think this is going to be a really important discussion and debate going forward, say, for the next five or 10 years.
MCCLESKEYWell, thanks for your call, Phil. I'm reminded a little bit of what he mentioned about the companies being advertising companies. There's an analogy, I suppose, with television -- where television, of course, paid for by advertising. The difference, though, it seems would be that television networks have traditionally made a lot of money. And a lot of startups don't make money. In fact, they lose money for a period of time.
MCCLESKEYAnd when you're looking at that dynamic and you're trying to get towards profitability at whatever cost, it seems like advertising has to be a part of that equation online. There have been debates over how to monetize the Web ever since the '90s. And as we look at that, how do you see companies responding and trying to find ways to be profitable? Let's go to Greg Kihlstrom.
KIHLSTROMSure. I mean, I think advertising is definitely the most natural -- or it's the easiest way to go. And I don't think it's always the best way to go because, you know, it depends on the value of the network that you have of people. So, I mean, I actually think that things like Facebook or Twitter, they're more advertising networks than they really are advertising agencies. I mean, I still think that they're the conduit for a brand to reach other people. But, you know, there's plenty of services. I mean, I think, using the TV analogy, I mean, HBO doesn't show ads. Plenty of people pay for it.
KIHLSTROMBut not every TV channel can be HBO. So I think there's already, you know, there's already past precedent for, you know, a paid model versus a free model. But places like Google and Facebook and Twitter, they make it really, really attractive for someone to use their services for free. And it's going to be really, really hard to wean ourselves off of a free service like Google or Facebook or all of the rest just because they offer so much for nothing.
MCCLESKEYUm-hum. Um-hum. And then to, all of a sudden, have to feel like you have to pay for it might be a difficult pill to swallow for many users. You know, another analogy there -- that makes me think of newspapers, of course, putting much of their content online and trying to figure out how to make that work for them economically. You do see some now beginning to charge and have a pay wall after a certain point.
MCCLESKEYOf course, they still are going to have ads as well. But as we move into the part of the conversation about newspapers or perhaps the news business, it makes me think about native advertising. And this is where the advertising itself is designed to look more like the editorial content. Give me just a brief rundown first of what native advertising is and how it's -- and, Greg, perhaps you can pick this up, or Harley Jebens, how it's becoming -- let's go to Harley first 'cause we haven't heard from you in a few minutes, Harley. How is native advertising becoming more prevalent these days?
JEBENSNative advertising is, as you mention, advertising or sponsored content that mirrors the form of the platform that it's appearing in. So you'll see -- I think BuzzFeed is probably the prime example right now of sort of a native advertising generator. A lot of their content is paid for by advertisers. So they'll write an article.
JEBENSYou know, they're famous for their list articles, so, you know, 10 crazy things you've never seen before, headlines like that, they could be sponsored by an advertiser that somehow ties in to what that advertiser is trying to convey. That's, I would say, a prime example of that sort of thing.
MCCLESKEYAnd we have seen for a number of years sponsored content or even in newspapers in print newspapers advertorials where something looked like a news story. It's usually set apart somehow, but the idea is to get it to appear more like the content that you're looking at. Is it more effective -- and I'll address this to you, Greg Kihlstrom. Is it more effective than a banner ad?
KIHLSTROMYeah. I mean, absolutely it is. And, I mean, I think -- I was just reading an article the other day. Publications -- I think something like 20 percent of their revenues already, you know, this type of native advertising content, they expect it to keep growing. And advertisers keep doing it because it really works. And I think it's that element of contextual relevance that really makes it valuable.
KIHLSTROMI think it -- I can only see it growing and getting more sophisticated. So, I mean, while, you know, a lot of times it might be just, you know, written content or things like that, more video content, more, you know, sophisticated types of content is going to become available.
MCCLESKEYAnd there is a question here of, how do you distinguish between one and the other? Earlier, Phil had asked about, what are the rules for using information? Jen Golbeck, what are the rules -- or are there any -- for how native advertising, which looks like an article, is differentiated from actual articles that would have gone through the editorial process of the publication, be it The Atlantic, as we've had some issues with native advertising, or Forbes, a number of other sites as well?
GOLBECKYeah. I actually see that distinction from the user's perspective as getting weaker. So one example that I've seen a lot recently is Slate recently redesigned their page. And they have sponsored content, this kind of native advertising, that's presented in exactly the same form as the articles. It's got, I think, a light blue border around it. But you really have to look at it there.
GOLBECKAnd then, from my perspective, what I look at a lot obviously is social media. And Twitter started doing this kind of sponsored tweets thing where, just in the middle of the tweets you're looking at, there are sponsored posts. Facebook then adopted that, so you get posts from companies. And I think Greg raised an interesting issue earlier in the show about this, that, on one hand, it's really good for brands if people can follow you on social media.
GOLBECKSo if there's companies I like, I can follow them on Twitter and Facebook. I can see their updates. I want to see that. I think that's great and is a amazing opportunity for advertisers. These sort of sponsored posts, on the other hand, are not from companies that I've chosen to follow. And they tend to feel a little more intrusive, even though there's just one of them. It kind of shows up right at the top, and I can't get around it. And I can't hide it. And it looks a lot like a regular post. It's hard to distinguish.
MCCLESKEYAnd it seems like a lot of this is still getting worked out. Earlier this year, The Atlantic featured a sponsored post from the Church of Scientology and wound up getting a lot of backlash from that. It wound up removing the post altogether and even issuing an apology. So there are some cases in which this kind of advertising can end up -- appears reflecting poorly on the publisher.
GOLBECKYeah. I think, especially in that case that you bring up, where it looks like -- there, you have a media outlet, right, that really has a brand that they're trying to portray. And if you have this very fuzzy line between their content and the sponsored content, that sponsored content kind of reflects back on the media provider in the first place.
GOLBECKSo, on one hand, it gets more people to click on it. On the other hand, you're not necessarily creating the impression of your own brand that you want.
MCCLESKEYAnd it was a sponsored post from the Church of Scientology, a very positive look, it came out just a few days before a book that took a very negative look at the Church of Scientology came out. And it was a time of some controversy on there. Let's go back to the phones now. I'd like to hear from Petey in Tracys Landing, Md. Petey, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PETEYOh, hi. I didn't expect to be on the air. I thought -- wonderful. I just I hate the ads. I think it's really intrusive. I think if somebody wants to sell me something, they should pay attention when I do a search. You know, I'm interested in buying. I put the parameters of what I want to buy in a search, so they should spend the money to find that search and then respond to it.
MCCLESKEYWell, I believe...
PETEYAnd they don't. You know, like, lots of times, you'll get a thing where it says -- you'll get responses that'll repeat some of the words in your search. You click on it. You go to the home page of a company that actually turns out not even to sell what you're looking for.
MCCLESKEYWell, that would -- Greg, are searches an effective way to find out what somebody's looking for and market to them?
KIHLSTROMYeah. They are effective. But, I mean, we know that not everyone who searches for something buys immediately. And so then you have things like retargeting, for instance, where that's when, you know, you end up on a website or you search for something, and the banner ads kind of follow you around where you go. It's...
MCCLESKEYLike Phil with his building supplies?
KIHLSTROMExactly. Yeah. Because we know that, you know, someone might be searching for something that they're doing research, they're comparing different products and all that, but, you know, it might be five days later when they actually make a purchase. And so to keep that front and center, you keep showing them ads until they make a purchase. And in some cases, like Phil, they follow you around a little bit after even if you're done with the purchase or something like that.
PETEYYeah. But I love that. I mean, why don't they just wait till they search again? You know, eventually, if I'm going to buy it online, I'm going to do it through a search, unless I'm, you know, beaten down by some ads or something.
MCCLESKEYWell, there's the word beaten down by the ads. So -- well, Petey, have you ever clicked on an ad?
PETEYNo. I don't want to encourage them. I don't trust them.
GOLBECKI mean, I think Petey is raising a point here about how these ads affect the user experience, that, you know, it sounds like maybe -- and you can correct me, Petey -- that you would be amenable to the kind of ads that come up with a search, that I talked about before. Right? I want to buy this, and so I search for it. And the ads that are for exactly that thing, those, I'm cool with. But some of the other ones that just kind of get in the way of your average experience, you know, I think this is why we have this negative view of ads.
GOLBECKIt's not that we think advertising is evil necessarily. I don't certainly think that. But I think it does get in the way of people doing the natural stuff they want to do a lot of the time online. That sounds like what Petey's complaining about here.
MCCLESKEYYeah. And it tends to be what we hear from user. It gets in the way of what I want to do. But it seems like, from the advertising perspective, it's more, we don't want to get in your way, we want to present to you options that you're interested in. Would that be correct, Greg?
KIHLSTROMYeah. And, I mean, not everyone has the same preferences or -- yeah, I mean, there's definitely people that don't ever want to see ads. They should use Ad Blockers, all of those kinds of things, but there are plenty of people that end up -- they do click on those retargeting ads five days later. And so it's, you know, it's a missed opportunity if we don't do that.
MCCLESKEYI read an article -- I believe it was from The New York Times from a couple years ago, talking about retargeting and how this one particular pair of shoes kept following the writer around after she had looked at them. There they were, and they kept popping up. Well, talk a little bit about how the data is used, it's collected, whether it's from search or from Facebook. And perhaps, Harley Jebens, let me ask you about this: How is data aggregated and then crunched to -- what sort of technology's developing there to help advertisers do a better job of finding out who's interested in what?
JEBENSRight now, I would say that that data is by and large limited to the various platforms, so it's not -- you're not seeing by and large a mixture of Facebook data with search data. I will say that Google has a lot of different platforms out there, so your search data and your map data and your -- if you're a member of Google Plus, the data -- you know, the content you consume there, YouTube data, that may be mixed and aggregated.
JEBENSBut by and large it's sort of separate now by those platforms. Again, we -- I think Greg mentioned that the concept of big data, which is taking all this data that's out there and crunching it in a number of different ways to see what information and insights it gleans, I think we're just at the infancy of that. So we'll see -- as everything else in this space, as that continues to evolve as well.
GOLBECKYeah. So on the big data point of this, which we've all brought up, my favorite example of this for advertising actually comes from the offline space. But it's an anecdote worth relating. This was in Forbes Magazine about Target who had sent a flyer out to this 15-year-old girl with advertisements for cribs and baby bottles and baby clothes. And her dad had called the store kind of enraged and -- what are you trying to encourage her to get pregnant? And two weeks later, the dad called back to apologize 'cause she was pregnant...
MCCLESKEYAnd had been looking online.
GOLBECKShe hadn't been looking online.
GOLBECKTarget actually uses the purchase history. Like, you have a little card.
GOLBECKSo they're using offline data. But Target figured out she was pregnant before she had told anybody. And then they used this -- they have a system that they call a pregnancy score that they use to target ads to people. Based on looking at their purchase history in the context of, you know, tens or hundreds of thousands of people, they can find out all these things about you.
GOLBECKI think as -- online, we've got the data to do that now, and I think that's a place where marketing is going to be increasingly heading, looking at predicting these things that people are going to be interested in by aggregating all of their history and attributes and doing some of this big data analysis.
MCCLESKEYAnd it seems like part of the issue is figuring out how to use it judiciously. I mean, that particular instance, maybe it went too far. In other instances, it's figuring out what somebody likes and might want to buy.
KIHLSTROMYeah. And, I mean, there's a whole industry of, you know, startups that are using this big data. I mean, I think big data as a tool has really only been available to the large, you know, Fortune 100 companies up until recently where now you can get a lot of great data for, you know, a small or medium business can actually get access to a lot of this number crunching that previously, you know, only, you know, places like Target had access to.
KIHLSTROMSo as we see that, you know, that cost going down, we're going to see a lot more people doing a lot more things with people's data. And it's a big industry, so, you know, we're going to see more and more people wanting more and more data and tying things together a lot more.
MCCLESKEYGo back to the phones now. Let's hear from Nathaniel calling us from Washington, D.C. Nathaniel, you're on the air. Go ahead.
NATHANIELYeah. Hi. My original comment was actually on the use of Ad Blocker. I'm a software engineer, and, you know, I actually really don't like Ad Blocker, mainly because I really value the work and the content that goes into what we see online. I use a lot of the Google-developed tools and things like that, and, you know, it really seems to me like we need to examine how we value content.
NATHANIELYou know, these other sort of comments that I had was about data online. And I don't know if this is an age thing or what. But I've never really had any illusions about privacy on the Internet. So the idea that I would want to protect things that I put online has always seemed kind of odd to me. I don't know. I mean, those are really sort of the few points that I wanted to bring up.
MCCLESKEYWell, thanks for your call, Nathaniel. Do you find a generational difference? I'm not sure who to put this to -- Jen Golbeck, perhaps. Is there a generational difference in how people view advertising online?
GOLBECKOh, that's an interesting question. So I can't answer that specifically for advertising. I certainly can answer it for privacy, though. We really do see a differences in generations. And I think it's more what kind of technology people have grown up with, as opposed to there really being differences between, say, people who were, you know, coming of age in the '60s versus the '90s versus now. Generally, people who are on the older end of the spectrum are much more protective of their privacy, in good and bad ways.
GOLBECKYou know, I'll see among my undergrads, some of them saying, it's on the Internet, so it doesn't really count. And that's a scary attitude to have.
GOLBECKAt the same time, I think there is stuff that you can share that falls into a pretty comfortable spectrum that can really improve your experience.
MCCLESKEYAnd, Greg Kihlstrom, do advertising agencies market differently to different people of different generations when you're looking at how to target an online ad?
KIHLSTROMYeah. I mean, I think so. But, I mean, the mechanisms of privacy and all that...
KIHLSTROM...I mean, obviously they apply the same to each.
KIHLSTROMSo, I mean, I think not so much -- I mean, not beyond, you know, messaging and images and stuff like that really.
MCCLESKEYOkay. And earlier, Jen, you had mentioned that, as a woman in your 30s, you were getting a lot of things about fertility treatments. Are there things where different -- I mean, it's demographics. People in different ages might be interested in different products.
GOLBECKThat's right. So Twitter and Facebook, they have options for advertising based on demographics, on location, social network. You know, do I want to target the friends of people who already like my brand? So there's a lot of different ways. But certainly they're taking advantage of that explicit data that we're sharing, like age and location and whether or not we have kids or if we're single.
MCCLESKEYWell, we could go on talking about this for another whole hour, but we are the end of this hour. I want to thank our guests for joining us, also all of those who called in over the course of the hour. Jen Golbeck is a professor in the College of Information Studies at the University of Maryland. She also directs the Human Computer Interaction Lab.
MCCLESKEYAlso with me here in studio, Greg Kihlstrom, founder and chief strategy officer and Carousel30, a digital advertising agency here in the Washington area. And from a studio in Atlanta, Ga., Harley Jebens, director of user experience at BBDO Atlanta and advertising agency there. Thanks to you all for joining us.
MCCLESKEYI'm Matt McCleskey, local host of Morning Edition here on WAMU 88.5, sitting in today for Kojo Nnamdi. Thanks for joining us.
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