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.