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Watching a video of a car crash? Let me offer you a new car.

By Matthew Shaer / April 30, 2009

Facebook and Google's custom-targeted advertising can yield some hilarious results.

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Over at the NYTimes' Bits blog, Saul Hansell wonders how often targeted ads on Facebook or Google actually hit their mark. He uses as an example a blurb advertising the arrival in New York of a well-known musician:

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Facebook knows I live near New York and that I’ve put in my profile that Béla Fleck, the jazz-bluegrass banjoist, is one of my favorite musicians. The ad was for screenings of “Throw Down Your Heart,” a movie about a trip by Mr. Fleck to Africa, where the banjo originated. This is advertising at its best. The film’s producers were telling me about something I didn’t know about and giving me a chance to buy it.

He goes on to argue that such connections are few and far between. How often do the algorithms accurately – and compellingly – interpret a user's interests?

I just don’t think there are enough cases like this to be significant. Mostly, people will see more Alpo ads even though they know their dog eats Purina Dog Chow.

Crossed wires

What Hansell doesn't discuss is the ways in which Google's algorithm can often tie itself in knots – producing some truly ghastly results. Today, for instance, I was watching a video of the recent car attack on the Dutch royal family. The video was produced by the Associated Press, but featured advertisements by Google. As the camera zoomed in on the wrecked car, an ad popped up from Volvo, offering me a peek at its new sedan.

Maybe next time.

For those about to rock

For my money – and for its worth – the best way to find out when new bands are coming to town isn't a Google advertisement. I prefer sites such as Tourfilter, which send me regular notifications when one of "my bands" will be playing nearby. Anyone out there have a favorite concert related site? Send 'em along. Until then, why not listen to the best?

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