Uh Oh: Online Ads Great for Nagging
By Ken Magill
Online advertising based on search terms can be an effective way to deliver cancer-prevention information, according to researchers at the University of California in San Francisco.
So now they’ve decided online advertising is a great way to harangue people in general.
As part of the study, the researchers bought some search terms related to tanning beds and served ads aimed at educating people about the negative effects tanning has on skin and the increased risks of cancer associated with it.
The best ad got a click-through rate of just over 1 percent. Of course, the researchers can’t know if they got anyone to rethink tanning with the ads.
No matter. The results still show promise for a brave new world of targeted finger wagging.
"Google handles three and half billion searches a day," said Dr. Eleni Linos, an assistant professor of dermatology at UC San Francisco. "This is an incredible opportunity for targeted, cost-effective public health messages. Even beyond skin cancer, our approach could be used for other major public health issues such as tobacco control or mental health problems."
After a year of online testing and refinement, the researchers selected nine ads that appeared between April 2 and June 2, 2015 - the time of year when the volume of searches for online tanning beds is highest, according to a release announcing the findings.
The most effective advertisement read, "The Truth of Tanning Beds/Do you know what you are doing to your skin?/Educate yourself!" It was displayed 198,276 times and clicked on by 2,062 visitors, for a click-through rate of 1.04 percent, the release said.
"Using online advertising for prevention is a brand new approach, and potentially a game-changer, for public health, but we still have a lot to learn," said Linos. "Partnering with technology companies and social media is key. We need to figure out how to best reach large audiences and deliver messages that are relevant and meaningful to them. And the ultimate question is how these interventions will actually shift behaviors."
Great. Social engineering through online advertising. Can't wait 'till the federal government gets wind of this.
Now, not only can my boxes of cigars tell me that California has determined that cigars are not a safe substitute for smoking cigarettes, the Internet can tell me, too. Even better, tax dollars can be used to fund the badgering.
Translation: Your money may be used to tell you what you already know about a bad habit.
Prediction: If public-health messages targeted using search terms gains traction, even though it potentially involves exactly the type of sensitive medical information privacy advocates howl about, they will be pin-drop silent.