Tag Archives: advertising

Internet Ad Fail: Meg Whitman wants to “captcha” your vote

Over the weekend, I ran across a disturbing new trend in internet advertising – and a sign of just how big an advertising push Meg Whitman is making in her bid to get elected governor of California.

Anyone who has spent any real time on the internet in the past few years will know what a “captcha” is – one of those distorted images of words, which you are required to type in correctly to verify that you are, in fact, a human rather than some spambot trying to download something or register on some site or whatever.

Yesterday, for the first time ever, I saw a “captcha” that was also an advertisement, with the text one was required to type in being some of the text from the ad.  In this case, the ad was from Meg Whitman’s political campaign:


It’s easy to see how this will catch on. I assume that many if not most or all of the websites that currently use “captcha” technology to screen users pay some sort of fee for the widget.  The company behind this ad captcha widget probably provides it free of charge, and makes its money selling that space for advertising. So websites will be greatly tempted to use these ad captchas in place of the old ad-free ones.

This is not the only insidious newer form of internet advertising in which Meg Whitman popped up recently.  I use an RSS/net news reader (NetNewsWire for the Mac) to monitor syndication feeds from a large number of websites – from major commercial sites like The New York Times to smaller special interest blogs such as La Vida Locavore.  Many of these sites I read almost exclusively in this way, via their feeds – only visiting the actual website when a post grabs my attention and clearly has content that has not been included in the feed, or when I want to post a comment.

One such site that I follow is the progressive environmental site, Grist (“A beacon in the smog”). Perversely, last week Grist’s RSS feed regularly and apparently exclusively featured ads for Meg Whitman – whom I doubt many people at Grist support. It’s like opening your copy of The Nation and finding an ad for the NRA – something that would never happen in the “real world,” but is surprisingly common with online advertising, even with contextual advertising.

But if the pairing of Grist and Meg Whitman seems improbable and unfortunate, it is nothing compared to what I saw in their RSS feed today – ads touting the benefits of clean coal:

The mind reels…

Of course, Grist almost certainly has no control over which ads appear in their feed. The ads are served up by a company (Pheedo) with no input from them.  But what the perversity of the recent ads appearing in Grist’s feed demonstrates is how problematic such input-free advertising can be.  I doubt I’m the only one who was seriously put off by these ads – more than I would have been seeing them elsewhere.

Citroën fail | Too Much To Say For Myself

Cath Elliott – feminist, labour activist, blogger, Twitterer and regular Guardian contributor – has posted a breathtaking bit of sexist advertising over on her blog, Too Much To Say For Myself. Under the title Citroën fail, she posts the text of a Citroën press release, and a video from the website being PRed, largely without comment because, as I said, it’s so appalling it takes your breath away:

Citroën has unveiled the latest relationship innovation – Dating 2.0 – a pioneering online service that allows users to create their perfect partner through interactive technology – the 21st century way to make a date….

Site of the Week: The Billboard Liberation Front

Billboard Liberation Front

The Billboard Liberation Front has teamed up the Wachovia Bank and the Treasury Department to bring you a new stimulus package for the long cold recession ahead, Money to Burn.

We offer a broad range of black-bag operations and cultural jam services, from project management and subversion consulting to media manipulation and thought placement. The key to our success is developing a true collaboration with our clients, and by caring as much about the working relationship as we do about the final execution. Our philosophy and track record has resulted in roster of long-term, satisfied clients in a diverse range of industries, from Fortune 1000 companies to local entrepreneurs.

(via The Billboard Liberation Front.)

Media Literacy: Teaching Kids to Read Advertising

The New York Times is reporting on a new government website designed to teach advertising literacy to kids in grades 5 and 6:

Teaching Youngsters How to Read Advertising: “A federal agency is undertaking an effort to school youngsters in the ways of Madison Avenue.

The Web site, Admongo.gov, will include several such ads in an effort to teach children to think through what an advertiser is trying to get them to do. A poster … will be distributed in classrooms to encourage children to visit the site.

The initiative seeks to educate children in grades four through six — tweens, in the parlance of marketing — about how advertising works so they can make better, more informed choices when they shop or when they ask parents to shop on their behalf.

(via NYTimes.com.)

A quick look at the site – Admongo.gov – shows that the main section consists of a Flash game – very much like other Flash games that my kid (and probably yours) plays. There are also separate sections, accessed through links in the top left, for parents and teachers.

Over the coming weeks, I hope to undertake a thorough exploration of this site to see just what the Federal Trade Commission and its partner in this project, Scholastic, think our kids need to know to be “ad literate.”

For starters, I’d like to know what they have to say about the above sample ad – used as an illustration in the New York Times article and apparently drawn from a set of sample ads provided by the site. Looking just at the text on this made-up ad, I would imagine that the ideas of a “Next Big Thing” and an “eco-flag” might be things they discuss. But what struck me most forcibly about this ad was its use of the sexualization that has become such a problem in ads aimed at children. We will see if this is an issue they address – if not, I will have some serious issues to raise with Admongo.gov and the Federal Trade Commission.

I would love input from other people about the site – if you check it out, be sure to let me know what you think.

Media Literacy: Chase’s Bad Karma

You’ve seen it if you watch primetime TV here in California: the ad for the bank Chase, to announce their “arrival” in the state via their takeover of WaMu, featuring a cover of John Lennon’s “Instant Karma! (We All Shine On).” Continue reading

What is it about that Lowe’s ad?

Searches on some combination of terms referring to the Lowe’s “calming green” ad featuring Valspar paint continue to be a major source of visits to this blog (to the post on “Kids and Kommercialism IV” in which I discuss the ad), and I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is about this ad that has everyone so excited.

It’s an okay ad – though only because of that “calming green” moment, which makes it memorable and effective – but it isn’t close to being the best or most interesting ad on TV at the moment. Just off the top of my head, the competing Honda Insight and Prius ads seem much more appealing. So what is it about that Lowe’s ad?

I have this fantasy that all these searches for information on the ad are being conducted by harried parents around the country, one step away from infanticide, who are leaping at the promise of a paint that will get their kids to sit down, shut up and do their homework. They weren’t able to convince the doctor to put the kids on Ritalin, so this is their last hope. Continue reading

Kids and Kommercialism V

Debunking – or, Read the Small Print

What I am going to call “debunking” is related to “critical media literacy,” though more basic and fact-oriented, less analytical. It is also particularly useful for working with kids on the issue of junk food – an issue which was highlighted in earlier posts that looked into the connections of fast food to obesity

By “debunking,” I mean reading and making sense of the small print, most often perhaps the small print of ingredient lists on food items, so it might be termed “label literacy” as well.  Sometimes, it applies more literally to the small print – those quick disclaimers that appear in TV ads or the small print of advertisements in magazines or of packaging for non-food items.

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Kids and Kommercialism IV

lit•er•a•cy |ˈlitərəsē; ˈlitrə-| – noun – the ability to read and write; competence or knowledge in a specified area

Critical Media Literacy

In a previous incarnation, I taught for a course on “gender and popular culture.” The first assignment given to the students was to visit the Toys R Us store in the local mall and write a short analysis of what they saw in terms of gender issues. This was generally a real eye-opener for the students, who were shocked and dismayed by what they observed. While they were for the most part familiar with issues of gender discourse and sexism in TV and movies (this was a university course), they were often stunned at how extensive it was, all-pervasive even, in children’s lives – in everyday stuff like toy packages, the styling of kids’ bicycles and even the layout of the store.

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