Why Do People Find You “Creepy” and “Annoying”?

I picked up my daughter from her playgroup yesterday. It was a birthday party for one of the kids, and I was the only man at the party. Four of the five mothers (including my wife) are expecting. My wife headed to an appointment when I arrived, leaving me with the crowd.

Being the geek, er, inquisitive professional I am, I decided to quickly poll the group of mothers to learn their thoughts on online advertising and marketing. These women range in age from 30 to 38, each with at least one child. All are college educated, and all work at least part time.

Mother 1 is British, living in the U.S. with her husband and four-year-old daughter. She is expecting a second child in May. She works part time at a movie theater.

Mother 2 is a stay-at-home mom with two boys, ages four and two. She is expecting twins in July. She sells antiques on eBay part time.

Mother 3 has a four-year-old daughter and a two-year-old son. She works part time as a nurse.

Mother 4 has a four-year-old son and is awaiting a baby in July. She works full time as a legal analyst out of her house.

Eric: I’ve got a looming deadline for my column on advertising technology. Can I pick your brains about online advertising? What’s your general impression?

Mother 1: Oh, it’s just annoying. I never click on ads.

Mother 2: I’ve never clicked on an ad before. Well, actually I have clicked on ads for products someone’s recommended to me. But usually I don’t.

Mother 3 and Mother 4 nodded heads, murmured agreement.

Eric: What about ads on search engines? Do you click on those ads, and are they as “annoying”?

Mother 2: I don’t mind those as much. I’ve clicked on those little text links on the right-hand side of Google a few times.

Mother 3: I’ve clicked on those, too. But the text really has to catch my eye or seem more relevant than what’s coming up in the main part of the window.

Mother 1 and Mother 4 nodded heads, murmured agreement.

Eric: What’s the big deal about ads? Why don’t you like them?

Mother 4: I installed a pop-up blocker to get rid of those really annoying ads. I can pretty much ignore the rest of them.

Mother 2: I just don’t have a lot of free time. If I’m online, I may only have a few minutes before I get called away by one of my kids.

Mother 3: I agree. Ads are just a distraction I don’t need.

Mother 4 nodded head in agreement.

Eric: Have any of you heard about Google’s new offering, Gmail? Essentially, Google will give you a free email account with 1GB of storage space instead of the usual tiny amount in most free email accounts. But they’re going to show text ads like on the search engine in the emails. They’ll pick an ad to show based on the content of the email.

Mother 1: Eew. That’s creepy!

Mother 3: Totally creepy!

Mother 4: I don’t like that at all!

Mother 2: I wouldn’t use that!

Eric: What if I told you the technology that scans the email content is much like a spam filter? It just looks for keywords and matches the ad to some keyword it finds. There isn’t a record of who saw which ad. Would you still find this “creepy”?

Mother 2: I guess it doesn’t bother me that much if I know it isn’t violating my privacy. But it still seems kind of creepy. I do like having more room for my email, though. I buy and sell a lot on eBay, so it would be helpful.

Mother 1: I don’t know. I still don’t like it. It just seems strange.

Mother 3: I’m not sure how I feel about it.

Mother 4: I think I would try it, but I’d be reluctant to have any sensitive conversations.

Eric: I know you’re all Internet users. What are the most important things you do online? What could you not live without?

Mother 1: Mainly email. We use dial-up for our Internet connection, so I don’t do a lot of Web surfing. Mostly, I email and IM relatives.

Mother 2: eBay, most definitely. I bring in a lot of extra income for my family. And email.

Mother 3: I do all my banking online. It saves me a ton of time, so I don’t have to go into the bank. I can pay all my bills online. I don’t have to write checks, ever.

Mother 4: I participate in a lot of chat rooms. And I do a lot of research; usually before I buy anything, I research it online. And I read the news.

As I listened to these active, intelligent women describe their day-to-day Internet experiences, I began to see how online marketing will eventually win and where it will face great challenges:

  • Advertising that catches attention without stopping users from achieving their primary goals will register on the annoyance meter but will still have impact — provided the message is compelling and relevant to users.

  • Specific demographics (such as busy mothers of growing families) require specific tactics. Win their business by providing value with lower prices and time saving through convenience.
  • In general, the privacy issues related to Google’s Gmail made the group’s skin crawl. One said she would use it; another said she would try it. They cited two compelling reasons: extra storage space and Google’s brand reputation.
  • In providing service through marketing, everyone wins. The entire group agreed this is the case, and they’re very happy to access free, ad-supported services online. They just want the ads to stay on the page and not interrupt their experience too much.

And my wife? She’s a stay-at-home mom who works part time as a doula (birth assistant) and volunteers as a La Leche League leader. Our four-year-old daughter is expecting a sibling pretty much any time. Don’t expect to see me at any industry events for the next few weeks!

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