Google Ads, Facebook Ads, or No Ads

by francine Hardaway on November 14, 2007

This morning, because I’ve been reading feeds about the triumphs of Open Social, and Facebook ads, and the migration of all advertising revenue in the future to social networks, I’ve also been thinking about myself, the user, and whether those ads really work. I know I will be in the minority here, but I’m going to say that these ads will be no more effective than previous methods of advertising.

Although this will expose me to criticism, I’m going to use the data point of myself as an example. I have been using Gmail since it debuted, and it gradually became my only email client. And yet I cannot tell you one ad I have seen on all the emails that have been served to me.  My friend Michael Markman once sent around a funny email about the kinds of ads he received alongside his emails — grotesquely inappropriate. Even after his email reminded me that there actually WERE ads on my email pages, I never saw them.

This morning I decided to take a look. Next to an email asking for advice on how to transport a car across country (a post from a mailing list I am on) came a bunch of ads for cars and car transport. Why would I ever look at them, since I am not the person transporting the car, nor even someone who could answer the question posed by the list member. Next to an email from a friend trying to set up drinks, an ad for Ron Paul and Phillies for President. Even funnier, next to an email announcing that I had another Twitter follower, an ad for I guess Google ads thinks all my Twitter followers can be stalkers.

Advertisers are paying for this? I hope they chose the cheap keywords.

Then I took a deeper dive into my own behavior and realized that I’m not as oblvious as I thought. I actually haven’t been seeing the ads at all  — rather than merely ignoring them. My browser is set to full screen, and the ads are off to the right.  So is Twitterific, with its eye-catching stream of Tweets from friends, and GoogleChat, with the occasional interruption from yet another friend. Those effectively would obscure the ads even if I made my browser window smaller.

Facebook ads, on the other hand (bad pun) are on the left. By and large, they are prettier. The last one I got was for an LG mobile phone, which I noticed because I thought at first it was an iPhone ad. Most of the time, since I am outside Facebook’s major demographic, I don’t get any ads.

More important than the shortcomings of the ads or the algorithms that serve them is the fact that I have to be trained to "see" Facebook ads and Google ads. Because they are relatively new, my mind and my eye must be trained the way they were trained to see magazine ads or TV commercials. The "creative" will have to get better.  It’s not all the alogrithm, stupid.

For example, until recently I was a subscriber to Vogue magazine. Like, I mean, I have been a subscriber since high school.  That was a serious preference. Same deal with The New Yorker. I used to flip through the pages of content  in both of them just to see the ads, because I assumed if it was in The New Yorker it was a quality product, and if it was in Vogue it was fashionable. I drew my tastes from them.

I now read both of those online. But I no longer see the ads.

This insight of mine must have some meaning for advertisers, at least until the Baby Boomers, GenX and GenY die off, because all of us were trained on TV, radio, and print ads, and trained to see the online world as either learning or fun and games. Or, best case scenario for the advertiser, as a repository of catalogues: J.Crew, Amazon, EBay,

For now I can only conclude that the brave new world of online advertising won’t be much different from the old world of advertising — ROI will be difficult to compute, and half the money will be wasted. Which half is still to be determined.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

william November 14, 2007 at 1:04 pm


Great post. As an advertiser I can say yes, we don’t pay much for those clicks. Content network clicks (what these fall into) are by and large cheaper than search network clicks. It may cost a few cents on some of these keywords IF they get clicked. If they don’t, costs nothing.

Personally, I don’t click on ads – period. On search, on email, on Twitterific, on social networks.. nada.

The thing about online advertising is that it is still a hell of a lot cheaper (and easier) than offline media (television, print, direct mail, radio). Thats why it is so hot right now. The results, in most cases (from my experience) are as good as other media, it just costs less.

And despite the examples you gave on the email targeting and its accuracy, thats a lot more targeted than a television ad.

Keep in mind, if you are taking pay per click, you only get charged as the advertiser IF someone responds to the ad. Different than the CPM model where you get charged just for ad displays. To me those are mostly worthless.

Xavier Vespa November 14, 2007 at 1:41 pm

As William stated above, since it is cheaper, it balances things out.

Those ads have the bad habit of polluting your emails though. Consider my name, VESPA. When people open my emails, they get ads for motorcycles, oil, old vespa bodies.

I could live without that, and so could my credibility. That’s where targeting should get smarter.

Jon Ford November 14, 2007 at 2:44 pm

I do notice the ads in Gmail. Much of the time they amuse me. Occasionally they prompt me to click, and I think I have even purchased something through this vehicle. As an old-time direct marketer I enjoy the entertainment value of the algorithm as much as anything. Given the way Google has minted money, the way advertisers line up to use it and the comments from advertisers on this post, it appears that the model is working for both the seller and the buyer of Google’s text ads – which generally seems to be more than can be said for many mainstream media ad sellers and buyers these days.

I’m sure that it’s not fair to compare Gmail to Vogue and The New Yorker, but I think the brilliant thing about using Gmail as an ad vehicle is that the media company only had to ask you to subscribe once (no renewals in a model where the product is free and provides a desirable, high-quality, lifestyle-integrated tool) and then you do all the work after that. You provide and manage the desirable content, the audience (yourself and any others you connect with), the targeting information (email content), etc. No publishers, no editors, no writers, no layouts, no printing, etc. It gives a whole new context to the phrase “write once, read many” and it brings a whole new interpretation to reaping the benefits of network effects. Even if they’re wrong 95% of the time, its probably still a more efficient ad model than anything mainstream media ever did.

francine hardaway November 14, 2007 at 4:47 pm

Oh good, keep talking to each other. Comments are covering a wide range of behavior, so clearly the jury’s still out!

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