A Rotten Advertisement

by Matthew Russell

Take a look at this image...


As you can see, a picture is truly worth a thousand words, but unfortunately, it may not be worth the effort it takes to enumerate those thousand words.

Obviously, that was an image of a popup ad, and it's one that I encounter semi-regularly. Aside from hurting my eyes (for reasons we shall leave unnamed), I think it brings up a legitimate question about ethics in advertising: Is it ethical to present internet ads in such a way that they might appear to be a part of your OS?

This ad is fairly laughable, although I'm sure there are a few folks out there who just recently came into contact with civilization and discovered the internet who may have been confused by it. But there are some more clever ads out there that speak of low system resources, etc., and if you click through, a company tries to bait you into buying their product through scare tactics. Although I wish it weren't so, there have probably been more than a few dollars made thorough this nefarious approach.

You and I can shake it off -- and I suppose the folks who really are confused by it and click through didn't really lose anything except a little time -- but the question remains: Where do advertisers cross the lines when trying to bait people in such ways?

Do you know anyone who honestly thought Bill Gates and the folks out at MS were offering them a free iPod? (Maybe it wasn't you, but I'm sure you know of someone...)


2005-12-16 04:57:45
The more things change ...
There are still people who think that Nieman-Marcus are an evil greedy company with a nonexistent hyphen (I actually made those cookies years ago; you have to cut the recipe down fourfold). Usenet is still full of "this ia legal!" scams.

Those pop-up messages don't fool anyone really. Windows people have pop-up blockers and and triple firewalls and anti-adware/spyware/malware daemons; they've turned off Java and Javascript and Flash and general hysteria is the order of their day.

Remember Cantor & Siegel? How innocent we all were.

2005-12-16 07:18:58
The more things change ...
Unfortunately, I actually have family members that do get tricked by those. They also (last I knew) have no firewall and an expired trial for anti-virus software.

Sigh...long days I've spent at that overpriced paperweight...

2005-12-16 10:37:49
The more things change ...
Same here -- so much so, that I found them confusing, even. In this case, it was a popup that appeared while doing a Windows update via the web complaining that the computer was not protected, and the user should install (buy) some commercial product. I couldn't figure out why my family was telling me their computers were unprotected and complaining more software needed to be installed.

Mind, of course, these were Win98 machines with no spyware protection (and I use Macs). Updated now, with "current" firewall/virus protection, at least.

Many, many people simply hit "OK" whenever they see something like that, though -- without reading the text, and without checking to see what they are clicking on. And I would bet a majority of casual users have the default settings in their browsers, so the javascript/etc. pop-ups can do whatever they like.

2005-12-16 14:48:33
Hello! Wake up and smell the UI
One of the biggest clues should be that that OS is clearly Mac OS X yet the screen presented has a WinXP look/feel/next> . Nevertheless, it's evil and borderline fraudulent. All the more reason to put ad blockers in via css or other code based system that is kind on CPU cycles. (I'm VERY sensitive to my peripheral vision so I don't like ads flashing at me so I kill them asap.)
2005-12-16 14:50:14
By an odd coincidence...
I am actually the person who created that add during my tenure at Fastclick.

It may surprise you to know that (a) these ads are *amazing effective*, (b) internet advertising is ruthlessly efficient, results-driven, and unsentimental. Why does this ad get used? Because it was employed alongside hundreds of other ads, displayed millions of times, and found to be more cost effective than the others, most of which were probably more clever or tasteful.

Every day we would see ads that were pretty, or clever, or witty fail, while idiotic ads promising free stuff would generate revenues.

Think of it this way: even smart people fall for these ads occasionally; pity the dumb people. The genius of really bad ads like this is that they're much more likely to be clicked by dumb people and much less likely to be clicked by smart people, and since many advertisers pay for each click, an ad that attracts clicks from the gullible is a cost-effective ad.

2005-12-16 14:54:53
Hello! Wake up and smell the UI
Given the level of stupidity/greed necessary to enter into one of these pyramid-selling schemes, do you really think that people notice or care about whether the GUI looks right? In many cases, ads that emulated the Windows 95 UI would outperform ads that emulated the Windows XP UI among Windows XP users. Go figure.

Remember that this kind of advertiser wants gullible people to click, and skeptical people not to click, because they are (probably) paying for clicks.

2005-12-16 15:24:49
The more things change ...
The funniest (or most depressing) example in my opinion is ads for spyware or malware protection that appear in the form of popups (or worse). This is the equivalent of a burglar alarm company employing burglars to break into people's houses and leave their brochures behind.

But the really amazing thing is that it *works*. I.e. people click on the ad and then buy the product.

2005-12-27 21:55:44
unfortunate but true...
I wiped/reloaded a fairly recent model Dell laptop for a friend a few weeks ago because it was so bogged down and slow. When I gave it back to him I spent a few minutes spreading the goodness of Firefox, saying how it blocks popups (because oh by the way you know not to click on those little things prompting you to update your computer right?)... And he says - "oh you mean I SHOULDN't click on those?" He had been dutifully clicking away every time a popup appeared for a system update (that more than likely was made to look like an "official" windows screen). Sheesh...