Monday, July 6, 2015

Can Yahoo Advertisers Reduce Their Losses?

Right. I am not the technology-as-fashion victim shopper of most online advertisers' dreams. I don't feel a need to have the latest computer thing. I'm actually more interested in squeezing every drop of use out of older gadgets than I am in buying new ones. That's how it was possible for a vintage computer repair shop to sell me a Dell Inspiron XP, reconditioned, with a ninety-day guarantee, years ago, and how it's possible that I'm still using said Inspiron XP now. And it really deserves its name of "Sickly Snail." It won't run Google +, Amazon, E-Bay, or Twitter at all.

But it used to run Yahoo e-mail quite efficiently, when I bought it. Only the latest "upgrades" to Yahoo e-mail, it can't handle. I opened my e-mail this morning. As usual, after a week there were over 300 pieces of tempting "bacon," about a dozen e-mails I would've wanted to read if Yahoo had been working, and only one e-mail that really needed to be read and answered immediately. As usual, it took the Sickly Snail and me four hours to find, open, and answer one e-mail. Less than ten minutes of that time was necessary to read the e-mail, dash off an answer in the word-processing program, paste it onto the "Reply to Sender" screen, and hit "Send." More than twenty minutes were taken up by watching the Sickly Snail proclaim that it was "sending." More than thirty-five minutes were taken up by waiting for the Sickly Snail to log out of Yahoo.

The main component of the gum in Yahoo's works these days seems to be a program called "Comet." This is what Yahoo advertisers need to know about. "Comet" was not advertised to Yahoo users. It is not for our convenience; it's a nuisance to users even when we open Yahoo on new, fast computers. It is, however, fairly obvious that "Comet" has something to do with Yahoo's pitch that Yahoo is going to custom-market your product to users who can really appreciate it.

Right. Just as a beginning: if people use a free e-mail system like Yahoo, that has been deliberately downgraded in the hope that its clunkiness will goad us into impulsively signing up for the paid version of Yahoo e-mail, this fact should tell you something very important about these people. We are not impulse buyers. At least, not online.

Possibly some of us are former impulse buyers who were forcibly reformed by becoming bankrupt. I, personally, was brought up in the woods--yes, one or two years, one of the houses my parents rented was a converted barn--by old-school Granola Greens who gave me a vague general impression that Creative Tightwaddery was one of the major Christian virtues. I had to read the entire Bible for myself to find out that "Thou shalt not make an impulse purchase" is not actually in there, in so many words, but then again quite a bit about what Jews and Christians should take into consideration before spending a penny is in there. For me impulse buying is out of the question...right beside stealing money, actually. Because, of course, if you've reached a level of income where spending money foolishly does not amount to robbing yourself of food or utilities, you're at the level where spending money foolishly amounts to robbing those in greater need.

So I would not expect to make a lot of immediate sales by advertising anything on Yahoo e-mail. At best, if I advertised anything on Yahoo e-mail, it would be a very, very "soft" publicity effort to increase brand recognition and possibly brand loyalty.

And, toward that end, I'd want to be very, very sure that my advertisements were not backfiring on me by associating me with any unpleasant experience. For example, if waiting for an ad graphic to load slows down someone's processing his or her e-mail, which is a chore many people do at work or at public-access computers where every second counts, then that ad graphic is generating hostile publicity.

I wondered this morning whether these advertisers had ever field-tested their own ads by processing their own e-mail on an old, slow computer. (Or, worse yet, on a phone! Spare us all...I promise myself I will never, never try to read e-mail on a telephone.) Try it some time, if you dare. See how it feels.

Or, if your doctor has advised you to watch your blood pressure, I'll tell you how it feels. Processing e-mail should feel like processing your own real mail, only with less wasted paper. Toss this, file that, toss these, actually do something about this one. (If I actually do something about it, I probably begin by printing it, but at least no paper needs to be wasted on ads.) Processing e-mail on a slow computer feels like being one of the disabled patients with whom I've worked who have to tell a personal assistant what to do, rather than just doing it. As if that weren't frustrating enough, however, "Comet" makes the experience more like being a disabled patient whose personal assistant has just gone insane.

You: "File these 25 e-mails as 'Bacon'." (Y'know, they're not really spam; they're pieces of legitimate information from legitimate e-friends who just send out batch e-mails or "newsletters" instead of posting things on their web sites. Most of my "Bacon" is news reports, many of which have been or will be printed in newspapers. If I had 48-hour work days I'd read each one, and, even as things are, if they become more relevant to subsequent events I may want to refer to them. So I file them.)

Insane Personal Assistant: "Yeah, well, maybe, but first y'gotta look at THIS! Look! Over here! See what I've been doing all night!" (That would be Yahoo's self-advertisement of "search terms trending now," more literally.)

You: "Delete this duplicate e-mail."

Insane Personal Assistant, leaping to the top of the file cabinet and scratching itself: "SCREECH! Buy something! Buy something! Anything! Hey, you admitted last month that you once bought a piece of furniture." (They didn't ask, but it was in 1989.) "Oo! Oo! Look! Furniture! Furniture!"

You: "Open this e-mail."

Insane Personal Assistant, spitting up hairballs on the rug: "Aaack! I think I've got catatonic schizophrenia. I'm passing out...No, it must not be catatonic schizophrenia after all! Look! It's rabies! I'm frothing!"

You: "Just get out of my office! Now!"

Insane Personal Assistant: "MAKE me! I'm reading all your files! I'm chewing on your shoes! Urgh, I'm going to be sick on your shoes!"

You: "I'm calling the police!" (hitting Ctrl+Alt+Delete)

Insane Personal Assistant: "They'll have to carry me out! I'm spitting in your water dispenser! Look at this ad graphic now! Buy something, buy something now, or I'll set fire to the building!" (Ctrl+Alt+Delete, like so many useful things, does not really work with the Dell Inspiron XP.)

After the morning I spent replying to one e-mail, my brain feels as if I'd just physically subdued a violent lunatic, and the last disgusting ad graphic I saw happens to have been a credit card. And this experience really has changed my mind. I have never used a credit card in my life. I don't remember which credit card company sent the cards to my class of college sophomores. I remember that a wise elder told us, "Look at John Doe, Jane Smith, and Joe Jones, paying 27% interest on pizzas before they even graduate--if they ever do. Do you want to be like them? Burn that card." I remember that I burned it. And for the past thirty years all credit cards have been alike to me: they're all equally good ways to start the wood burning in a wood-burning stove. But now one credit card has been seared into my memory as more loathsome than the others. My experience of different credit cards may consist solely of seeing them as clutter, but the "Discover Card" is the content of the ad clutter that caused it to take 35 minutes to shut down Yahoo this morning. Now, if anyone asks me about credit cards, I can tell them I particularly loathe "Discover." I can tell them that all credit card companies basically exploit people who fail to take control of their own spending habits, but "Discover" also harasses people who have enough common sense not to use a credit card, and probably deserves an IRS audit if not an FBI investigation.

You are not paying Yahoo to give people the sort of impression of your company that I now have of "Discover" credit cards.

So, what are you paying Yahoo for? Is there a way to make advertising to an audience self-selected for tightwaddery pay off? There may be one, but if there is, it begins with persuading Yahoo to get rid of the "Comet" and any similar attempts to "customize" ads based on matching keywords in people's e-mail.

Yahoo and you have been trying to use a stale old twentieth-century technique that was based on the idea that (a) people aren't going to buy your product for any rational reason, (b) nor are they going to buy your product because they like it or you, so (c) you have to find a way to sneak past their rational thought processes and appeal directly to their ids, (d) preferably by showing them images that stimulate physical appetites.

But the twentieth century is over. People who grew up during the twentieth century are hardened. No image flashed on a screen stimulates us any more. A lot of us lived in houses with kitchens crammed full of all kinds of food, with mothers who urged us to eat food, with televisions that flashed images of food and people eating food and people singing about food in our faces every five minutes, and the immediate result was that we became anorexic. A lot of us are currently looking at pornography every chance we get, to show others and if possible convince ourselves that we're not completely postsexual, and we're still living postsexual lives. There is no image of anything anybody's trying to sell that arouses any feeling of covetousness in me any more. There's a local clothing store that still stuffs slick paper ads into the local newspapers, and some of the clothes look cute on some of the models, and at most, when I see an especially appealing image of the latest fashion, I think, "Nice color(s), I might knit something like that," but I don't buy the clothes.

You want to sell me something? You need to go back to the rational thought process. Spying on my e-mail leads to irrelevant results; virtually none of my e-mail is about things I'd be likely to buy. You'll find out much more about what I buy, and when, and how, by reading my published writing, especially my own personal blog, where I have actually posted articles about things I'd like to buy.

One thing you'll find out is that, like most middle-aged people, I have furniture. No image of furniture is going to motivate me to rush out and buy more furniture, because I already own it. On the other hand, if you want to market your furniture badly enough, you might be able to think of a creative way to persuade me to buy furniture, as it might be for the wedding shower that was thrown for friends of a friend last week. What does my blog clearly, if not repetitiously, say about what I want to have more of? I want to have more money. What do I do to earn money? I write. You might try offering me, say, $100 in cash plus a $500 furniture store card to write a sonnet that mentioned furniture. That would interest me, enough that I might even go out and find somebody who wanted the furniture. It's a long shot, but that person might possibly want to buy another piece of furniture while the truck was there. That might be worth a try.

Or you might want to try this one: Pay Yahoo to make e-mail chores smooth and efficient, no matter how old or how slow or how unsuitable the device a person may be using. Declutter the screen. Instead of hiding the "log out" button in a pull-down menu that skitters away from an obnoxious ad, keep the "log out" button in full view, in a place where it can't possibly bump into any other buttons, on every screen. Display ads as text only, and only at the bottom of each page.

Don't try to make ads "exciting," which people who grew up in the twentieth century understand to mean "obnoxious." Why be the barfly who oozes up to a guy, mumbling "You can take me home" just before collapsing in a puddle on his lap? Why not be the cool, confident gal who's played by a real movie star, who has some sort of life of her own, and whom the guy actually wants to take home? A quiet, confident ad doesn't need to do more than say, in plain text that doesn't interfere with anything, "No-Hassle Yahoo E-Mail, Sponsored by Brand X. www . brandx . com ." That won't make the tightwads who use free Yahoo either want your product or have the money for it--but then we didn't, anyway, so nothing changes. On the other hand, if we ever do enter the market for your product, we'll remember that we don't already hate you, which will definitely put you ahead of companies like "Discover."