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Pop-ups and advertising


Henry at Crooked Timber notices some GOP 527 ads in strange places:

One of my colleagues complained to me this morning that her AOL Instant Messenger software had been hijacked by political spam. As I’ve seen for myself, every time she moves her cursor over the program, a loud, obnoxious movie-ad pops up, telling her in stentorian tones about the horrible things that John Edwards and the Evil Trial Lawyers are doing to doctors. On further investigation, it turns out that this particular box of delights has been brought to your desktop by the “November Fund,” a pro-Republican 527 created by the US Chamber of Commerce.

And reaches the following conclusion:

For my part, I sincerely hope that they raise and spend as much money as possible on Internet advertising. If I were a swing voter, I can’t imagine anything more likely to make me vote Democratic than having my desktop invaded by talking, dancing Republican adware.

He could be right, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Virtually all advertising is annoying, garish, intrusive, and time-consuming. Yet those who want to reach our eyes, ears and minds spend billions looking for new ways to do it, and even to subvert our explicit efforts to avoid it. Examples include: pop-ups that bust through pop-up blockers, corner-of-the-screen-graphics-during-shows ads for tivoing TV viewers, and legal challenges to the do not call list and anti-spam legislation. In general, advertising isn’t something we’re meant to respond rationally to, and my hunch is that those fleeting thoughts that pass through peoples heads about punishing a particularly egregious advertiser almost never come to fruition without an organized campaign. Furthermore, if you seriously think voting for Bush *might* be a good idea, but it also might not, you probably imagine yourself a very thoughtful and serious person. You’re hardly likely to conciously make your final decision on the basis of anger about an intrusive ad. It’s entirely possible that putting the whole evil lawyers nonsense in the front of peoples minds (and the ad is likely not meant to change people’s minds on the issue, but rather to remind those who are concerned about it to keep thinking about it) will have a greater impact than the backlash against annoying advertising techniques.

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