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Stupid Media Watch: More Evidence the Tech Press Shouldn't Write about Ads


By Ken Magill

And the award for most ignorant column about marketing and advertising for 2013—and man is there a bunch of competition—goes to columnist John Dvorak at

Headlined “Why Targeted Ads Miss,” the piece starts out with the BS claim that the whole idea of targeted advertising is “baloney.”

How does he back his claim up?

“No actual research proves it works to any extent,” he wrote. “I'm sure these promoters shove some industry-sponsored research in an advertiser's face to convince them computerized targeting works just so they can gouge them.”

Um, John, media buyers don’t need research on whether or not targeted advertising works. And they wouldn’t pay attention to it if a media rep offered it to them.

My wife’s a media buyer. A lot of her job is basic arithmetic. She spends X on a client’s behalf and she better get X-plus in revenue or she fires the vendor.

It’s pretty amazing to watch, actually. My wife is the most non-confrontational person you will ever meet. So non-confrontational, I’ve had to adjust my communication tactics over the years.

But the minute a media vendor starts losing money for one of her clients, she’s all over them like the smell of liquor on my breath on … well … any given night.

Media buying is all about results. There is no room for hokum. No results: People get canned.

So what, Ken? A tech writer is talking out his ass about marketing. What else is new?

Well, in attempting to make his point about the failures of targeted advertising, Dvorak touched on a subject I’ve been meaning to write about for some time: Ads delivered to the Amazon Kindle when it goes to sleep.

They’re usually some deal of the day. And by my experience—apparently Dvorak’s, as well—they aren’t remotely targeted.

The ad on my Kindle as I write this is for the novel “A Hundred Summers,” described as “A smart and engrossing story that is perfect for the Gossip Girls series.”

As shocking as this may seem, I am not a fan of the Gossip Girls series.

Dvorak sees this lack of targeting as a failure—of targeting:

“I've noticed lately however, that the promotions on the screen are largely for junk romance books, chick-lit, and other genres I would never read. I have never bought a book in this category, nor have I shopped for one,” he wrote.

“With all the geographic, demographic, and psychographic info Amazon has on me, why in the world does it think I'll buy this? At first I thought the folks behind this were idiots but then I realized that even Amazon knows spam marketing works best. To hell with what I might like to buy—roll out this offer to everyone at no cost to them! Maybe they will get lucky by virtue of the same numbers game those lucrative scammers play,” he continued.

“This Kindle spam tells me that the entire targeted marketing pitch is bullcrap. Spam is where it's at.”

Dvorak has a resume that puts mine to shame so it is unlikely he is this off target—so to speak—in his other writing endeavors.

But clearly when it comes to advertising he is out of his depth.

When I first got my ad-supported Kindle, I too, was taken aback by the titles it offered when it went to sleep.

But then it occurred to me: I read a lot of current-events and political books of a certain bent. A Kindle ad is essentially a little billboard that anyone in its immediate vicinity can see.

Do I want an offer for “Why it’s Time to Impeach Obama” or “Why Obama Belongs on Mount Rushmore” appearing on my Kindle when I set it on the bench next to me at my son’s little-league game where other parents can see it?

Damned tootin’ I don’t.

Amazon is protecting my privacy because it has a financial interest in doing so. Imagine that.

Anyone who shops Amazon knows the retailer has the ability to make astonishingly accurate recommendations based on the customer’s previous purchases and the purchases of others who have bought the same items.

The Kindle screen is one area where Amazon is apparently exercising discretion. And wisely so.


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