Here’s the scenario: a scantily clad woman wearing a string bikini approaches your table while you’re stuffing yourself at an all-you-can-eat brunch and tries to sell you a membership to a gym.

Wrong time, wrong place, and just plain odd, right?

You politely refuse her offer. 

Later that day, when you go to the pharmacy to get something to help with your “I can’t believe I ate the whole thing” indigestion, she shows up again.

Weird woman, weird sales pitch, and seeing her twice in the same day is coincidental, you think. You leave the pharmacy, never expecting to see her again.

But when you go to the movies that night, there she is again in front of the theater.

You begin to feel as if you’re being stalked.

When you drop into the coffee shop outside your apartment for a bedtime snack, there she is again.

“If I see you one more time, I’m calling the authorities,” you say. But it falls on deaf ears, this woman can’t hear.

And when you try to identify who you should call to complain about a scantily clad woman who shows up everywhere you go, you discover that there’s no one to call.

Same Scenario, Different Setting

This, no doubt, seems like a bizarre scenario. And, in the real world, it would be. But, if you’re typical, something similar happens to you on the web all of the time.

Only it’s probably not a woman in a bikini you see, but a display ad that prominently shows up on the websites you visit: the bold colors, size and placement of the ads are just as eye-catching.

Not only that, but the ad is contextually just as out of place as a bikini sale would be at a brunch, in a pharmacy, movie theater or at a coffee shop.

Losing Respect and Sales

Something like this actually happened to me with a well-known cloud file storage vendor a few weeks back. The company’s ad showed up while I was reading reviews of Broadway plays, looking up the weather forecast and doing some investment research.

Talk about annoying.

But it’s not only that. As someone who works and writes about Big Data, it’s a little depressing. We have all of this information, all of this technology and all of these analytics, and we can’t do any better than that?

And while for the consumer the price of content mismanagement is aggravation, for advertisers, it could cost much more.

If I were going to shop for a cloud file storage solution, for example, I wouldn’t pick the one that was stalking me. Not only because I’ve been annoyed by the company, but also because as a technology company, they’ve lost my respect.

And, yes, I understand that it’s not the company itself, or even a human, that is pushing these ads on to the page. But that doesn’t mean that my experience isn’t personal.

I’m Not Alone In My Annoyance

For a while I thought I was an outlier in feeling disturbed by these ads. But yesterday, InsightsOne, a pioneer in consumer predictive intelligence solutions enabled by big data, released the results of its Bad Ads survey which was conducted, on their behalf, by Harris Interactive.

Here are some of the findings:

  • 91% of Americans report that they are annoyed by poorly placed ads and misdirected emails
  • 87% of Americans polled say that they are putting their foot down on the number of irrelevant ads they are willing to see before they ignore a company completely. Twenty-three percent say they will do so after seeing just one spam email or online ad and 43% say they will ignore a company completely after seeing as many as two.
  • 55% of Americans say that they are annoyed by spam/sidebar ads (which is more than postal junk mail)
  • 14% said they would stop using the product advertised
  • 13% said they would boycott the product being advertised.

Suffice it to say, that we have very strong reaction to the ads we see on the web. And while no one is saying they should go away, they need to be made more relevant and less obtrusive, lest the companies do themselves more harm than good by advertising.

Waqar Hasan, CEO of InsightsOne, sums it up pretty nicely: “The results of the study show that consumers have a real limit on what they’re willing to put up with, and this very real problem will have a negative impact on a company’s income statement if they don’t do something about it.”