Over the course of history, there have certainly been some pathetic attempts to make money by creating new advertising schemes. But since the advent of the Internet, these gimmicks have flourished and increased tenfold. What used to be an industry limited to transparent propaganda, boastful bandwagon claims and easily avoidable incentives has become a completely different animal in the online space—and now there’s a new gimmick in town that may be the most pathetic yet.
By this point in time, most regular Internet users are familiar with CAPTCHA technology, whether they know it or not. CAPTCHA is an acronym for Completely Automated Public Turing test to tell Computers and Humans Apart. These tests require the user to type in characters from a distorted image, often with an obscured sequence of letters and numbers appearing on the screen. They are used to prevent bots from spamming websites with fraudulent registrations and misleading data—and they are solved more than 300 million times per day. Ultimately, these tests are asking you to prove that you are indeed a human being. While annoying and often time consuming, they are a necessary evil.
Remember pop-up ads? Ads that play sound automatically? Ads that float across the screen? Ads that don’t have “close” buttons? While memories of these annoyances from back in the early 2000s probably still haunt your dreams (and they aren’t even completely gone yet), the Internet has generally become a much more consumer-savvy ad space in recent years. Marketers have learned to use technology to gather data and insights in order to serve up steaming hot plates of personalized ads that are actually somewhat relevant to individual users. Businesses are happy because of higher conversion rates and consumers are happy because, frankly, these types of ads don’t totally piss them off.
However, since most inefficiencies signal opportunity for the suitable businessperson, it didn’t take long for CAPTCHA technology to be exploited for advertising purposes. Solve Media, a New York-based startup, has found a way to make money by putting the CAPTCHA keys in the hands of brands. By watching an embedded commercial for a brand you may or may not be interested in, you will eventually be given the CAPTCHA code in a “non-squiggly” format if you stick around long enough. Basically, this company is offering to take away the pain of squinting your eyes in exchange for the pain of watching an advertisement that you don’t want to see. Interested? Their explanation video is below.
From a business perspective, this may seem like a great idea; Adweek has already gone on the record acknowledging its financial potential. But let’s not forget that for a while, pop-up ads were successful, too. Higher message recall and engagement rates from forced advertising can be misleading. At the end of the day, consumers will determine whether this technology will catch on or not—and this particular consumer happens to think this gimmick is not only intrusive and deceptive, but also pretty darn annoying.
Here’s the problem: this new CAPTCHA ad scheme is built on an outbound mindset, which is the way of the past. Brands can no longer spray and pray with their advertisements; consumers will come to resent them. More importantly, brands must be sensitive to people in the way of their preferences for consuming advertisements. No one likes to be forced to watch an ad in order to get the information they need to fill out an unrelated form, but this is precisely what happens. Brands advertising in this fashion must beware of a backlash similar to what happened with pop-up ads: a 2004 study from the Nielsen Norman Group found that more than 50 percent of consumers transferred their dislike of an ad format to the advertiser itself.
Advertisers need to think about more than just impressions. They need to consider context. User experience is an important metric that can be difficult to measure, but easy to offend.
The brands that are making the most of advertising online are the ones that have learned not to force ads down consumers’ throats; instead, they’ve embraced an inbound mindset. Give consumers the power to view what they want, like Hulu does with their ad swap strategy. Or, tailor ads to individuals based on demographic data and interests, like Facebook. The consumer is king in this inbound Internet world, and brands must be careful not to forget that.
For a simple breakdown of inbound marketing and the pitfalls of an outbound strategy, check out the eBook 51 Things Your Mother Taught You About Inbound Marketing.
Image credit: Captcha.net