Why digital ads are like over-eager technology

by Nigel Hollis | February 28, 2018

The technology I use seems to be overly eager to help me. I realized this when Facebook yet again created a photo album for me without my asking. Nice but you know what? I am not going to post a random selection of photos. I want to curate them first. And I bet that I am not the only one.

I might be wrong here but I am pretty sure most of us want to put our best face forward on social media, whether it is choosing between a set of selfies – damn, my left eye is half-closed again – or picking the best shots from a day spent exploring – do I really want to share a photo of that nameless statue? Look, I get it, Facebook wants us to share stuff and spend more time on the platform but surely there are better ways of getting us to do so?


Facebook is far from alone when it comes to over-eager technology. Siri seems desperate to suggest calendar events based on previous history, irrespective of the fact that I have something completely different in mind. But while these might feel like solutions in search of a problem there are other offers that simply seem self-serving. How many times has iTunes asked to be my music player? And Explorer wants to be my browser. And the damn things will not take no for an answer. You can bet that next time I do the same task I am going to get the same request.

The trouble is that I feel exactly the same way about a lot of the digital advertising that I see. The ads seem completely self-serving and do not respect what I really want. It reminds me of a cartoon from 2006 which states,

“If you talked to people the way advertising talks to people, they’d punch you in the face.”

If that was true then it is so much more so today. While I might not be able to punch the ads I would love to be able to speak back to them.

“Get off my phone and let me find what I need right now.”

“Stop repeating yourself, you’re already too late.”

“Oh for goodness sake, just because I am looking at recipes does not mean I want to buy a dress!”

In my experience, the vast majority of digital advertising seems to assume it will change people’s behavior simply by getting looked at. Unfortunately, our research finds that this is not true. If you want to get people to change their behavior you need to reach them with something that is personally relevant and interesting if not useful. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that it is the human that ends up buying things not just the browser? What do you think? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Stephen Jenke, March 01, 2018
    Hi Nigel, you ate not alone on this. Here is a good book on the broader stifling of our experiences eith digital advertisingAnthony Tasgal , “The Inspiratorium”,
  2. Ed C, February 28, 2018


    But I think the best part of this article is the reminder: “If you talked to people the way advertising talks to people, they’d punch you in the face.” I'm going to add that into a presentation at some point... :)

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