Incognito Advertising

I don’t know about you, but one of the most frustrating things about the internet is that moment when you accidentally click on an advertisement in the rush of the moment when you are searching for something specific. For me, sometimes it is not easy to differentiate between the advertisements and legitimate search results that appear when I search for brands or items on Google, and It is becoming increasingly difficult for other people too. So much so, that the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) took notice after consumer advocacy groups were concerned with consumers being “tricked”.

There were rules originally placed as early as 2002 that had guidelines for how search engines could present advertisements. For a while the differences were evident, but nowadays the websites have slipped back into their old ways and the lines are not so clear.

Here is an advertisement from Microsoft mocking Google’s use of ads.

screen shot 2012-11-28 at 3.02.40 pm

The companies, such as Google, Yahoo and Bing repeatedly deny that they are attempting to trick anyone, which is obviously what they would say. However, to me it seems that they are doing everything possible to make the ads blend in so much that even our generation of tech savvy young adults will find ourselves clicking on advertisements.

Just now I searched Google for “coats” and the first three options were all ads. But they looked exactly like the search result links, they just were accompanied by a small yellow box that read “ad” and trademark or copyright symbols. But what was confusing to me, was that these were brands that would have been popular search options to begin with, so why advertise them at the top and waste money?

On Googles results page I found a little information symbol near the yellow box and clicked in out of curiosity. It said that the ads were tailored to my search, visits to other websites, gender, and age range. So that explains why the ads were so similar to the actual results. Not all bad I suppose, but the specific tailoring to my demographic doesn’t help to explain why the companies are shirking the guidelines of the FTC and making the advertisements more and more incognito.

The results are even worse on sites other than Google. On Yahoo almost the entire first page of results was all advertisements. This is inefficient for the user and has lost them at least one user (me).


What do you think about these incognito advertisements?

O’Reilly, L. (2014, October 14). Study Says Google, Yahoo And Bing Are Running ‘Deceptive’ Ads – And Regulators Are Doing Nothing To Stop It. Retrieved October 16, 2014.

4 thoughts on “Incognito Advertising

  1. To be honest I actually don’t really mind the advertisements especially when they are tailored using my specific data. For example if I were to search coats it would advertise stores I normally shop at and sites I have visited before this helps me to find what I want so I don’t mind whether or not it is an ad as long as I find what I am looking for.


  2. I believe that not only are incognito advertisements annoying, I also think they are fairly ineffective. The return from these types of ads can’t possibly be giving a very solid return.


  3. I hate incognito advertising, and unfortunately it is virtually unavoidable these days. Every Google search you make, the first three results or so are just ads related to your search, not the actual results you wanted. The same goes for YouTube. I cannot count how many times I have clicked on the first video in a list of search too quickly only to discover, to my horror, that it is a video advertising some stupid product or service I do not care about. I don’t think it is an effective way to advertise at all because when people do click on these ads it is usually by mistake, so whoever is viewing it is likely to quickly exit out and return to what they were actually searching for.


  4. In my opinion, I do not think there should be such a big fuss about advertisements. I understand that agencies tailor these ads to what people search, but I find most of them helpful. I do agree that Yahoo is probably the most annoying with their advertisements, so that is why I do not use them. I use Google the most, and I usually can tell which is an advertisement and which is not. Maybe it is because I am an Ad/PR major so I am looking for a career in the field, but I do not mind hidden ads…I mean people have to make a living somehow.


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