One of the ways that advertising has fundamentally changed in the last few years is the introduction of online targeted advertising. In the past, if I wanted to reach a certain target audience, I would have to find magazines or television shows that I knew were popular among my target group and place advertisements in them. Obviously, if I want to reach cat lovers because I am selling a new and improved scratching pole, a pet magazine is a better place than a sports magazine. Online advertising lets this go even a step further, because now it is possible to target people based on even more specific criteria and without as much knowledge of what is popular in the group.
Google AdWords is an advertising product that lets advertisers display their ads next to Google searches for related things. "Your ads appear on Google When people search on Google using one of your keywords, your ad may appear next to the search results. Now you're advertising to an audience that's already interested in you." This is taken a step further with Google AdSense, which places ads from advertisers on other websites based on contextual analysis of what a site is about. "Google AdSense is a fast and easy way for website publishers of all sizes to display relevant, unobtrusive Google ads on their website's content pages and earn money. Because the ads are related to what your users are looking for on your site, you'll finally have a way to both monetize and enhance your content pages." Advertisers want to reach people who like flowers, you run a website about flowers, their ads go on your site. That makes sense.
Facebook is taking the equation up even another notch. Advertisers can purchase ads on Facebook targeting people at specific schools, with specific interests, of specific ages and genders. If you ran a pizza shop and wanted to have a special promotion for students from a nearby college during the Superbowl, you could target people who specifically have said they like football who attend that college. Here I create a Facebook ad that probably only targets me. That's not creepy at all.
What all of this means for me, the consumer, is that I am getting ads that I actually like. No longer do I get ads for X10 wireless cameras and lawnmowers, now the ads I see are for web design, photography, and other things I care about. Obviously the technology isn't perfect - and it'd be creepy if I got no irrelevant ads at all. Still, the advantages to this system are obvious for both advertisers and customers, and things are just going to keep heading in this direction. Facebook has announced that they will enable "social ads" on other sites. Interesting technology, but where will it go?
Obviously, all of this raises privacy concerns, and how much do I really want to see advertisements, even if they are for things I like? I like fun and amusing ads about things I like, and I have actually clicked some of the ads Facebook has showed me since they started getting relevant. I think relevant ads are great, but we need to make sure we don't do things that jeopardize individuals privacy.