Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Targeted Ads Bounce Off the Bull's Eye

It was bad enough two years ago when Yahoo was "targeting" ads by zip codes. Internet dating services pay for constant ad bombardments. I know this may be a surprise to some of the people who operate Internet dating services, but the probability of my paying an Internet dating service to introduce me to one of my cousins is subzero. If I ever did use a personal ad service, the idea would be to "meet" men from some place where all the decent guys were not already related to me.

But now the computer is, as advertised, picking up on words in my e-mail, and possibly on this blog. If so, here's something for local family-owned businesses to know:

I know where Bill Gatton's car lots are. I don't own or want a car, but I worked there in the 1990s. Bill Gatton's has been around long enough, and outlasted enough competition, that they're probably doing something right. I mean, over and above keeping the building sparkly-clean, although that's definitely a step in the right direction. But I'm not more likely to buy a car because they've bought a Yahoo ad. The fact that I receive, and sometimes reply to, a fair amount of e-mail about Bristol and some e-mail containing the word "car" in no way implies that I'm likely to buy a car.

I know where more than one Food City supermarket is. Sometimes I do buy groceries there. Not often, because although they sometimes offer good sale prices on things I buy, they practically never offer a reasonable regular price on anything I buy. But I'm not more likely to buy more groceries because they've bought a Yahoo ad. Even though I do eat, do buy groceries, and sometimes buy groceries from Food City, I don't use my limited online time or ability to stare at a computer screen to read ads. I check the ads in the Kingsport Times-News and Virginia Star. The fact that I not only blog about food but actually eat it in no way implies that I'm likely to let a nuisance graphic tell me what food to buy where.

I know where Gilbert's Gun & Pawn Shop is. I've never bought a gun or pawned anything there, but I used to have a booth in a flea market, and all the local junk dealers know each other and trade junk that seems to fit in somebody else's collection better than in one's own. The Gilberts didn't try to cheat me, nor have I heard of them cheating anybody else. But I'm not more likely to buy a gun or pawn any of the high-end junk they handle because they've bought a Yahoo ad. The fact that I receive, and sometimes reply to, e-mail about firearms rights legislation in no way implies that I'm likely to buy a gun.

I know where most of the local businesses and attractions are, actually. Mr. Clark's Furniture Store. Quillin's Hardware. Mac's Medicine Mart. Broadwater Drugs. Thriftway. Oliver's Loft. The Ivy Cottage. Estilville Bed & Breakfast. Addco. I Love Books. Memory Lane. Circle V. Wallace News. Chris's Department Store. The Haggle Shop. The Hob Nob. Etc., etc., etc. I remember Appco, Nickels, the Corner Copia...yesterday I took a survey about nationally advertised appliances and wasn't sure which brands were still being manufactured, but I remember which year these local businesses ceased to exist.

I know some of the local business owners personally--enough to feel bemused when a yuppie type who's trying to launch a business by overspending recklessly pays for an unnecessary and off-putting ad, and outraged when a nice seventy-something couple both of whom have been in the hospital lately have been slick-talked into paying for an unnecessary and off-putting ad. When Yahoo's "targeted ads" are annoying people who've been your neighbors for longer than Yahoo has existed, those ads are bouncing right off the bull's-eye.

And if you're my neighbors, not that I've gone into the stores discussed above (or any other store) to push this idea, you're more likely to get more business and more loyalty from me if you advertise right here. That would keep the money in the area; if I had more money I probably wouldn't buy more of the things I don't buy, but at least I'd buy more of the things I do buy, so the money would circulate around Gate City, Kingsport, and Bristol and possibly trickle back to your business.

Yahoo's "targeting" ads within the local area may work for newcomers to a big city who want to know where to find things in the neighborhood where they're renting, but in this part of the world, it's a stupid idea. If the people who see your ads are going to be people who already know who, what, and where you are, why annoy them with pop-up ads at all?