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Engineers irrationally hate advertising tech (cogmap.com)
8 points by subelsky on June 2, 2012 | hide | past | favorite | 12 comments

The dislike of advertising isn't so much that ads pay for free content on the internet. It has to do more with the slippery slope of qualities and techniques that advertisers have and use to be successful.

To be a really good advertiser, you normally need to do some of the following loathsome things (and others not listed):

1. Outright spam. 2. Force opt-out over opt-in notions of content distribution. 3. Collect information on people that normally violates user notions of privacy. 4. Abuse otherwise useful UI features like pop-up windows in order to force ads into user view. 5. Be obnoxious to get your message heard, ie make the ad big, make the colors outlandish, add sound.

Engineers dislike advertising because we know details of how our privacy is being violated. We don't have the bliss of ignorance.

> 2. Force opt-out over opt-in notions of content distribution.

> Engineers dislike advertising because we know details of how our privacy is being violated. We don't have the bliss of ignorance.

Nailed it.

I work as an engineer for an advertising company (criteo) and call me naive but I believe we do none of these. I still understand the stereotyped view of advertising companies that we all hate.

Also, Google is (mostly) an advertising company.

I also work as an engineer for an ad related company (openx) and I similarly believe we do none of the above. On the engineering side we mostly write code that gets called billions of times a day and has to provide responses in a few hundred milliseconds. It's kinda fun.

Google is definitely an advertising company, but they do it well.

that's an archaic view on advertising

As a developer, I'll outline why I rationally have great contempt for advertising.

Television, print and radio advertisements have irrevocably caused me to gag at most advertisements. I can see right though the lies and half-truths that marketers spin to fool people into buying their mediocre products. Take any McDonald's ad campaign over the past few years. Note that (at least in Canada) that no overweight person is ever featured. Somehow, perfectly healthy people are devouring Big Macs and we're expected to believe it.

Advertisements now often rely heavily on sexual overtones. Web advertisements are quite guilty as well. As an adult male with a functioning brain, I find ads that rely on sexuality disgusting. I wasn't compelled to purchase alcohol before the commercial came on, and now I'm thoroughly repulsed. Decrement another point of respect for marketers.

I'm also disturbed by ad companies tracking me whenever possible. I read a forum thread on a public computer which described a custom suit company. For the next week, I was inundated with ads for that company on the same computer. I do not seek "personalization" as I never intentionally click on ads. If I want something, I'll go out and look for it. On my own computer, I block as many ad servers as I can through my hosts file.

Yes, the world really does revolve around money. However, advertising is not the sole plausible revenue model for a web site. Wikipedia is a fine example of a web site that doesn't need third-party advertising to exist. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the Wikimedia Foundation because it's funded so openly. GitHub seems to be chugging along without bombarding its users with advertisements because it has a premium content model.

As was mentioned earlier, "engineers" are smart enough to see through advertising. Disillusionment of web sites like Facebook and Google Analytics is more than enough to propagate disgust for advertising.

Someone recently posted a similar observation, except it was not at all congratulatory: the best minds of today are all busy not curing cancer. The author of this post is right, none of the companies named are doing much that's interesting (except Google; search is incredible.) But I don't see that as a point in advertising's favor.

They don't hate advertising tech, they hate spending time on something as useless as advertising.

An engineer wants to build something useful, and advertising is not useful. I mean really, who cares if 1% of a particular demographic switches from Tide to Wisk? Do you really want to put your talents to use in that way?

Modern advertising is a parasite on people's evolved cooperation mechanisms. We naturally feel moved to do what those around us are doing, and advertising preys on that instinct by providing it false social cues to encourage behavior that is profitable for the advertiser.

I dislike advertising itself as much as the next engineer. I won't even attempt to defend that position with logic, it's a visceral preference.

But I especially wouldn't want to work for advertisers. It seems natural that such companies would be structured to have engineering work for sales and marketing, with management acting as a funnel rather than an umbrella.

First of all, how can you rationally hate something? Hate is inherently irrational. Anybody who hates anything hates it irrationally. The title should simply be, "Engineers hate advertising tech". The use of the word "irrationally" is simply a lame attempt to paint us as being objectively wrong, which doesn't even make sense.

Second, I think a lot of people have good reasons for disliking advertising tech. Beyond a certain point, advertising essentially becomes a zero-sum game. The people who see your ads are only going to spend so much money on stuff, and once you've saturated that, the best you can do is move the money around. It's unlikely that your product is vastly better than what people would otherwise find. Advertising can certainly help get the word out about truly excellent new products, but that use is vastly outweighed by simply trying to switch people from one brand to another mostly equivalent one.

Because of this zero-sum nature of much advertising, it becomes a race to the bottom. In most markets, if competing products A and B both improve an equal amount, everybody benefits. In advertising, if competing ads A and B both become more effective at selling, little changes. The better ad will continue to work better, but the absolute effect will not change much. (In reality, all ads compete against all other ads to an extent for people's money, but the point still holds as long as you look at all of them.) The trouble is that an ad's effectiveness is only loosely tied to its aesthetic value or utility to the viewer. In other markets, when competitors race to improve their products, the result is awesome products. In advertising, the result is ads that are continually larger, louder, brighter, stupider, more difficult to bypass, more insulting, and more annoying. Companies race to one-up each other's ads and the rest of us are just collateral damage in their war.

Ads are intruding on more and more of our lives, including things we pay for. Everybody I know hates sitting through ads after paying $BIGNUM at a movie theater, but somehow the practice has become universal anyway. I suppose it hurts sales less than it boosts revenues. This helps the theater, but it doesn't help me. Tickets didn't get any cheaper when ads went in. For an internet example, take Hulu Plus, which I understand is now showing ads to paid subscribers.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, ads are probably the single greatest non-government mechanism for invading our privacy today. Ads work better when they're targeted based on personal information, and the result is private companies with vast amounts of information about everybody's browsing habits, held and used in a completely opaque and unaccountable fashion. Ad networks are becoming vast spy networks that just happen to be used for the relatively benign purpose of getting us to buy stuff. And you wonder why we don't like ad technology?

I'm an engineer and I'm fascinated by the advertising space. In fact, one of the things on my side project list that's been there for the past four years is creating a mobile advertising network. I know its a big job and the technical challenges are one of the reasons I haven't done it.

If I were looking to work for other people, the primary reason I would likely not work for any of the advertising companies or startups I've looked at is not the engineering challenges they face, nor any irrational hatred of advertising, but the fact that ad companies are run by ad men.

Maybe a better word would be "MBA Types". There is a culture/group/whatever of people who are different from me, who in many ways I have trouble relating to and who seem to make decisions, in my experience, that are bad for engineering and bad for the product, but good for short term business wins.

I'm not saying they are wrong or bad or that I irrationally hate them, just that I long ago added to the list of things I look for in an employer a very senior person (CTO for instance) who is an engineer. And then I look to make sure that engineer is the one who has final say on engineering decisions.

Looking at most add startups "Team" pages, there are no engineers there at all.

Certainly there is a cultural segment of people who really seem to hate the idea of marketing, advertising, SEO, etc.

There's overlap with engineers, but I don't think this perspective is intrinsic to engineers.

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