Junk ads turn the web into a bazaar of trinkets, rants, and odd t-shirts

showing tablet s blank screen ads
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Portia Kapraun has always seen unwelcome ads on Twitter, usually from major brands pitching her luxury jewelry or vehicles that she, as a librarian in Indiana, could not afford.اضافة اعلان

But the mix now is far more annoying: more ads for random gold investments, she said, and also a badly designed ad for what looked like a tabletop foosball set constructed with rubber bands and particle board, which promised its product would be the most fun family game she had ever played.

Kapraun was not interested. But she soon saw the ad again. And again. And again.

“I don’t know who they think I am, but that did not look especially fun,” she said of the foosball set. “These feel like bargain-basement advertisers. It mostly seemed like things you would see if you were watching late-night television.”

In a shaky advertising market in an uncertain economy, ads that few people want to see suddenly seem to be everywhere.

Recent ads on Twitter, as described by users, have made the platform feel like a tabloid magazine or the haunting ground of Ron Popeil, the inventor of wares people did not know they needed, including the Veg-O-Matic, the Ronco Electric Food Dehydrator, and the Inside-the-Shell Egg Scrambler. There were ads for T-shirts printed with a horse’s head superimposed on a heartbeat line, served to someone who does not ride horses nor particularly like them. Also: fraudulent ads for discount drones, spots hawking crude gaming apps, and promoted posts from people ranting about “puppet masters” and “the slave mind”.

On Instagram, ads from Amazon promote unrecognizable contraptions from obscure merchants, echoing the shopping site Wish, which was notorious for bizarre ads. On YouTube, ads impersonate popular video creators to scam viewers, a phenomenon that has irked Elon Musk and that YouTube says it is addressing.

Why the influx of junk ads?Advancements in digital advertising technology were meant to improve users’ experience. People interested in shoes are intended to get ads for sneakers and loafers, and not repeated pitches for courses teaching seduction techniques. And the technology is supposed to filter out misleading or dangerous pitches.
“Anytime you lower the barrier to entry, you’re going to get lower-quality entrants.”
But lately, on several platforms, the opposite seems to be happening for a variety of reasons, including a slowdown in the overall digital ad market. As numerous deep-pocketed marketers have pulled back, and the softer market has led several digital platforms to lower their ad pricing, opportunities have opened up for less exacting advertisers.

“Anytime you lower the barrier to entry, you’re going to get lower-quality entrants,” said Jessica Fong, an assistant marketing professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.

In the past, buying a newspaper or television ad usually involved calling up a representative who would manually review and place the ad. Now, more than 90 percent of spending on digital display ads happens through automated software.

Social media offers many ad formats — static text, videos, playable games, messaging, brand takeovers, custom filters — and most are getting easier to buy. Many advertisers can now go online and set the budget for how much they are willing to bid through a platform’s automated auction for a spot that reaches their target audience.

Evidence of a junk-ad epidemic is anecdotal; tech platforms rarely reveal data on who advertises with them and how often. Also, quality is in the eye of the beholder — ads are sometimes most successful when they are eye-catchingly terrible.

Platform woesSocial media platforms have said they have established rigorous advertising policies to safeguard standards and continue to attract first-rate ads from blue-chip companies.

Digital ad spending, while still growing overall, “has decelerated precipitously”, according to an analysis last month by research firm Insider Intelligence.

Twitter seems to be faring the worst. The company has struggled to retain top-flight advertisers since Musk took over as owner in October, amid fears of a proliferation of hate speech and misinformation on the platform. Its 10 largest advertisers last year spent 55 percent less during Musk’s tenure than they did a year earlier, with six of them spending nothing so far this year, according to estimates from the research firm Sensor Tower. Twitter has offered buy-one-get-one-free deals, discounts, and bonus incentives to lure back advertisers, media buyers said.

But advertising troubles have hit the biggest publicly traded social networks, too. Snapchat’s parent company last month posted its slowest-ever rate of quarterly growth and projected a sales drop for the current quarter. Google’s parent company, Alphabet, said ad sales at YouTube slipped nearly 8 percent in the latest quarter.
Social media offers many ad formats — static text, videos, playable games, messaging, brand takeovers, custom filters — and most are getting easier to buy.
Last year, Meta, which owns Facebook and Instagram, reported its first decline ever in quarterly revenue (it fell again last quarter). Ad prices on Facebook and Instagram fell 24 percent in the last quarter of 2022 from a year earlier, according to the investment bank Piper Sandler.

Shareholder pressure, stoked by years of big profits, continues to push those companies to generate revenue wherever possible — including, experts said, through selling low-quality ads.

Beyond social platforms, bad ads appear elsewhere on the internet. But streaming services and news websites tend to have stricter advertising guidelines and more limited and expensive ad space, which makes ads easier to regulate. Some publishers, including Bloomberg Media, are starting to avoid third-party brokers and automated auctions of ad space, which deal with enormous volumes and are more likely to miss low-quality ads.

Social media is a far easier target for the small but motivated group of anti-vaccine advertisers studied by David Broniatowski, who helps run the Institute for Data, Democracy, and Politics at the George Washington University. Their ads are designed to evade “very brittle” moderation algorithms by spacing out the letters of banned keywords or replacing them with emoji, he said.

“They will use whatever means necessary to get their message out there,” he said. “Ads are simply one tool in their toolbox.”

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