OK, here’s an example:
Me: “Hi Bob. Where did you buy that shirt?”
Bob: “Magnesium cornbread umbrella.”
What? How? Never mind.
We got a reply like that at The Leader this week, except the person’s name wasn’t Bob and I’m pretty sure he doesn’t own a metallic, edible umbrella, though we can always wonder.
The purpose of today’s column isn’t to embarrass anyone. Instead, and for the purpose of mass media education, I’d like to use this space to explain the creepy, yet effective, process of targeted digital advertising.
First, let’s get back to the story. We have a wonderful group of marketing executives at The Leader who work with local businesses on their marketing needs. Often, they’ll talk to businesses about advertising opportunities in our newspaper. Other times, they’ll help customers develop a digital or social media strategy. Or maybe they help businesses that need to do some direct mailing.
In this particular case, one of our marketing executives was working with a local real estate agent on a special project we’re doing with similar Realtors.
Now obviously, this specific Realtor wasn’t familiar with The Leader, so he apparently did what all good business owners would do: He went to our website and started reading stories we published. Except he didn’t make it very far.
Instead, this fellow sent our employee one of those “Magnesium cornbread” replies. It’s only fair that I publish the entire response.
“Thanks for reaching out. Unfortunately, read an article via the leader news website and was disturbed to see advertising for mr. trump in an unrelated article. For this reason, we do not think that The Leader News will be a good fit for our business.
“I’ve attached screenshots of what I’m referring to and believe that The Leader News would have control over content or advertising that is approved to be featured on its website/articles.
“This is the type of offensive content that we’d prefer not to be associated with.
“Thanks again for reaching out, but we will not advertise with The Leader News publication.”
Our employee forwarded this email with the following: “I’m at a loss for how to address this…”
What she really wanted to say was, “What? How? Never mind.”
Let me explain what was in the screenshot forwarded by this person who obviously isn’t familiar with The Leader. As you’ll find on any news website across the country, there was an ad, placed by Google, in the text of one of our stories. In fact, Google has ads placed in the text of most news stories on most news websites. (More on that later.)
One of the ads was placed by a Trump PAC that asked if we should deport illegal immigrants. Ouch, but OK. Every President – Republican and Democrat – has deported illegal immigrants. Just like in Canada, Holland and China, our country has rules about illegal immigrants, which shouldn’t be confused with an immigrant, of which my grandparents were, and yours were too, most likely.
The second Google ad was from a company called LowerMyBills.com, and they used a headline in their ad that said, “Trump is on a Roll.” The rest of the ad was how consumers could use a Congressional mortgage stimulus program to save money.
Of course, the word that half this country finds offensive, “Trump,” appeared in the ad, so in this particular case, The Leader allows “offensive content” and we’re not to be associated with by this specific person.
If you’ve never heard the phrase “Cancel Culture,” I’d like to encourage you to spend some time reading about it. While I don’t have the time to explain it all, it’s important in this conversation.
The Urban Dictionary has one of the best definitions.
“[Cancel Culture] is a modern internet phenomenon where a person is ejected from influence or fame by questionable actions. It is caused by a critical mass of people who are quick to judge and slow to question… It is a direct result of the ignorance of people caused by communication technologies outpacing the growth in available knowledge of a person.”
For those who know and have read The Leader for any amount of time (those of you who don’t need to go look us up on the web to find out who we are), you likely know there’s rarely a hint of national politics in our newspaper. About the only time you’ll read the word “Trump” in our paper is when our syndicated columnist Lynn Ashby goes on one of his rants, and we’re usually laughing when he does.
Otherwise, we’re about as far from political as you’ll find anywhere. Meanwhile, on our website, we are always in need of advertising dollars to support our news mission, and we allow Google ads to be placed there.
What many apparently don’t know is that we don’t control those ads. Instead, you control them. Ever searched for “suits” on the web and then seen advertisements for suits on every web page you visit for the next month?
Websites – and Google is chief among them – have this tracking software down to a precise science. Sometimes, you get “served” these ads because of where you live (geo-fencing or geo-targeting). Sometimes, you get them because big companies like LowerMyBills.com can afford to swath an entire ZIP code or city with them, which is what happened for this poor soul who looked at our website.
Meanwhile, our control over Google is about the same as your pet dog’s – none.
Then again, I always wonder how this fellow would have responded if a Michael Bloomberg ad would have appeared in the same place.
Such are the times in which we live, and it’s really a shame. Meanwhile, we’ll just keep doing what we know best at The Leader. Writing local news, free of national politics and in constant search for a cornbread umbrella.